Skip to content

Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center: A Special Manatee Sanctuary

The Electric Manatee viewing center, located in Apollo Beach at Big Bend Power Station, is one of Tampa's many animal and wildlife attractions. If you want to get up and with these enormous marine mammals and possibly jump into a spring or feel the force of a cyclone in the center's simulator, this is a great place to start.


The Big Bend Power Station has been delivering electricity to the Apollo Beach community for over 40 years now. Thousands of manatees congregate every year in the power plant's discharge canal, where saltwater drawn from the bay for use in the power plant flows back in a warm, clean state.

When water temperatures fall below 68 degrees, manatees seek refuge in this warm water flowing from the units to the bay. They are protected from the cold in this federal and state-designated sanctuary.

The manatee observation center provides the public with a good look at the animals gathered in the canal. There are no admission costs, and parking is likewise free of charge.

What is the best time to see the manatees?

When the temperature of the surroundings drops below Fahrenheit, it's easier to spot these gentle creatures. When the bay becomes too cold for them, they seek refuge in this area.

Manatee in Crystal River Florida

What are some of the activities you can enjoy at the center?

Whether you come only to see the manatees or to enjoy other wildlife and plant species, too, this site has it all. A tidal promenade featuring plants and bird's native to Florida, a butterfly garden, and a wildlife observation tower are available at the sanctuary. Here are some things to do at the manatee viewing center:

Check Out the Manatee Educational Building

There's a manatee educational building on the site. The structure offers many attractions, including a vivid exhibition of manatees in their natural environment. You'll learn about some of the manatees in the area, the threats they face, and what experts are doing to safeguard these amazing species.

You can also play with real manatee bones and put puzzles together. This structure also houses a hurricane simulator, where you can learn about the city's hurricane preparedness and response methods and experience a blast from a simulation of the storm.

Rays Touch Tank

The centre has a ray touch tank in collaboration with the Florida Aquarium. This ten-thousand-gallon tank houses at least 12 stingrays, the official mascots of the Tampa Bay Rays, a major league baseball club. Get a close-up look at these cownosed rays near the surface before they're relocated to their summer home at the Tropicana Field.

The Tidal Walk

After exploring the center, take a stroll outside to admire the lush butterfly gardens and the beautiful Florida-inspired landscaping. You will also observe a variety of Florida's native plants and wildlife while strolling along the wildlife walkway, meandering through mangrove tunnels, drifting along a bed of seagrass, and diving beneath a spring.

The red, black, and white mangroves are found here. They play a crucial role in the food chain and provide habitat for young fish, shellfish, and crustaceans.

You can also catch a glimpse of the nonvenomous mangrove water snake here. When you reach the estuary, you will see various fish such as tarpon, trout and snook and birds such as the Double-crested Cormorant, the Brown Pelican and the eagle ray. Look out for the last one since it has been known to leap entirely out of the water. The cow-nosed ray and the southern stingray can swim around in shallow waters.

Boardwalk Viewing Area

The 900-foot wildlife walkway will take you to a boardwalk, an elevated observation platform created as a vantage point for spotting manatees while taking a breath of air. Here the staff and volunteers assist in explaining information about the manatees and answering questions from visitors. The place also offers amusing photo opportunities for the sanctuary's staff and family, don't forget to preserve those kodak moments.

Wildlife Observation Tower

Proceed to the wildlife observation tower after the boardwalk to view the ecosystem and estuary from the top of this 50-foot tower. Picnic tables are available here, so you can grab a bite while enjoying the view and the sunshine.

At what time does the manatee sanctuary open?

The viewing center opens from 10 in the morning to 5 in the evening starting November 1 to April 15 and closes during thanksgiving. During Christmas time, it closes at 3 pm and doesn't open on Christmas day and Easter.

Alternatively, you can do a virtual visit. Each year, the webcam at the centre operates from November 1 to April 15.

Tips to follow for a memorable visit

If you want to enjoy your time at the manatee sanctuary, bring your entire family! This manatee sanctuary is suitable for people of all ages. Just remember to pack enough water, food and some bug spray and sunscreen; after all, you are going outdoors and will need protection from harsh elements.

If you plan on visiting during the weekends, please arrive early because the place fills up quickly and parking becomes a nightmare. In fact, many people start parking on the grassy areas near the curb when the parking lot is filled. Oh, and put on some good walking shoes because you are going to do a good amount of walking. The wildlife walkway is 900ft long.

At some point, you will want to use the restrooms, a number of them are located at the Clean Energy Centre, and others are at the Educational Center

Finally, don't get cheeky and try to feed the animals. The sanctuary doesn't allow that. Also, there are no restaurants here, so carry your own food and water.


The Manatee Viewing Center at Apollo Beach offers a lot of attractions, including an up-close look at manatees, a simulated hurricane experience, a nature trail and a picnic site. You can do a virtual tour or visit the center with your family. The place doesn't charge an entry fee, and parking is available free of charge, too. You can see the sanctuary's website to learn more!

Interested in learning about becoming a resident in Florida or moving there? Read more.

Find The Right Mortgage

For more than 20 years, Phil have been helping customers achieve their home purchase and refinance goals by providing them with invaluable resources and support.

Schedule a FREE Consultation
Phil Ganz

Subscribe to Get Your First Time Homebuyer Checklist

Sign up for the weekly newsletter to stay up to date on the latest real estate market trends, loan news, and so much more!