Tampa Electric says its Manatee Viewing Center in Hillsborough County has set a new record: The center hosted 1,100 manatees at one time, which beats the previous record of 850, set last winter.
"This season has been consistently chilly, which has allowed us to see more manatees at one time than ever before," says Stan Kroh, manager of land and stewardship programs for Tampa Electric, in a Monday press release. "This makes for an even better experience for our visitors."
The manatees have gathered in the canal since the early 1970s, Tampa Electric officials say. When the water temperature of Tampa Bay is 68 degrees or colder, the mammals gather in the clean, warm water discharge canal of Tampa Electric's Big Bend Power Station, sometimes by the hundreds. And now more than 1,000, Tampa Electric officials say.
Tampa Electric officials say that each season, the 50-acre Manatee Viewing Center draws hundreds of thousands of human visitors — nearly 500,000 in 2023. Since the center opened in 1986, 7.4 million people have visited, officials say in a statement.
Guests can see the mammals up close from multiple boardwalks and vantage points. They also can meet rays, animals that rely on a healthy Tampa Bay ecosystem, and touch them as they glide past in a touch-tank.
Visitors also can hike the nature trail and take in the vistas from the 50-foot observation tower.
Admission and parking at the Apollo Beach facility are free. The Manatee Viewing Center's regular hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day from Nov. 1 through April 15, except Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. No pets are allowed at the center, only trained service animals.
Tampa Electric, one of Florida's largest investor-owned electric utilities, says it serves about 840,000 customers in West-Central Florida. Tampa Electric is a subsidiary of Emera Inc., headquartered in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
This article has been updated.