Florida is quite frankly awash with wildlife – wild dolphins, snapping turtles and the oddly graceful manatee, and that’s just to name a few. Here, we give you the low down on our favourites and where to go to spot them.
What? Manatees, otherwise known as Sea Cows, are giant herbivores who can live in both salt and freshwater. They look a little bit like a cross between a seal and a cow with their parted upper lips, and strong stocky bodies. There are three different species of manatee and the kind that can be found in Florida is the West Indian manatee.
Where? There are thought to be around 5,000 manatees residing in Florida but the recorded numbers vary significantly. Three Sisters Spring in Crystal River has been known to harbour over 100 manatees during the winter season making it a great place to go to witness these gentle giants. In recent years, manatees have come to be found around power stations in winter, thriving off the heat that the plants emit. As such, there is the Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Centre beside the Big Bend Power Station.
When? You can see manatees all year round in Florida, but during the winter their residencies are more predictable, and you are more likely to see them in greater numbers.
What? Finding Nemo enamoured the masses with turtles, and it’s not hard to see why when they glide through the water so easily on their stocky bodies. Florida is endowed with five different species of sea turtles: green sea turtles, hawksbill turtles, leatherback turtles, loggerhead turtles and the endangered Kemp’s ridley turtle. Swimming with turtles is certainly on our travel bucket list and the opportunity to see any of five species is particularly exciting!
Where? In order to support the rehabilitation of turtles head to The Turtle Hospital in Marathon which houses, treats and releases injured sea turtles back in to the wild. This is a great place to go both see a variety of different species and support their conservation. To see turtles in the wild, take part in a guided tour, and make sure to choose a reputable company to ensure that the experience is as responsible as possible.
When? If you visit a rehabilitation centre, you can see turtles all year round. However, if you’re looking to see nesting turtles – the nesting season takes place from May to October with many of the guided tours taking place in July.
What? Florida is somewhat famous for sharks. The state is home to an impressive number of species, perhaps most famously to bull sharks, great hammerheads, tiger sharks and lemon sharks. Bull sharks are the most aggressive of these species, due to their incredibly territorial nature.
Where? Florida Keys is one of the finest places to see sharks in Florida due to the dense population of these eerie creatures there. There are a number of companies, like Keys Shark Diving, running shark watching and shark diving tours in this area. On the watching tours you stay entirely above water whilst the diving tours involve cage diving – neither of these require any prior diving experience. Over the last few years, there has been increased criticism over shark cage diving so you may want to do your research before deciding which sort of tour you would like to partake in.
When? This is not so much when to see sharks, but when to try not to. It’s best not to swim during or after twilight as this is when sharks feed. Advice also states that if you want to swim in waters where sharks live, it’s best not to swim out past the first sand bar.
What? Florida’s black bear is the state’s largest land mammal and yet is fairly small in size (as bears go) growing up to 3.5 metres in height, paw to shoulder. These omnivores subsist on a diet of insects and plants and are largely solitary animals, except during the mating season.
Where? The bear population of Florida is believed to be at around 3,000 but the reported numbers vary. What we do know, however, is that this bear population is now largely confined to several national parks including the Everglades National Park, the Big Cypress National Preserve and the Ocala National Forest. Black bears are quite shy, and don’t love human interaction which does make them difficult to spot!
When? In Florida, most black bears (with the exception of pregnant females) are active all year round and will not hibernate.
Alligators and Crocodiles
What? Florida is home to alligators and American crocodiles, which have flourished after coming close to extinction in the 1970s. Whilst they may look almost identical from a distance, there are glaring differences up close. Alligators, for one, don’t share that famous toothy grin that crocodiles have when their mouths are closed.
Where? The Everglades National Park is one of the best places to spot an alligator or crocodile in the wild, and you can choose to walk or cycle in their midst. However, these are dangerous animals and it is important to exercise caution when around any wild animals.
When? Winter is the best time to spot alligators and crocodiles.
What? Dolphins spring to mind immediately when we think about Florida, and the two are as interlinked as cheese and crackers. However, this needn’t mean a trip to a choreographed dolphin show, there are lots of wild dolphins to spot too! Florida is home to a number of dolphin species but the most common is the bottlenose dolphin, a large species which once fully grown can range between two and four metres in length.
Where? These dolphins can often be found leaping out of the water in the Gulf of Mexico, and as such can be spotted off the shore of Key West. Fury Key West offer a tour which marries a day on a catamaran with a spot of dolphin watching, alongside the opportunity to snorkel. Sounds like a dreamy day out to us.
When? You can see dolphins all year round in Florida but you may need to be patient in order to spot them.