Every winter, on especially cold nights, hundreds of manatees converge in one small canal in Satellite Beach, adjacent to the DeSoto Park. The canal is just several feet deep, so the manatees are clearly visible as they sleep, yawn, stretch, snorkle, lumber over and under each other, and, on occasion, eat the plants by the side of the canal. You’ll see baby manatees with their mothers, and sometimes the manatees feed on the plants by the side of the canal. The area is fenced off for the safety and protection of the beloved manatees, but visitors are still mere yards from them, and many come with chairs to sit and enjoy the wild manatees and their activities.
I’ve received some questions from readers about visiting the manatees. I’ll try to answer the questions here.
- How can I tell if manatees are there before I go? Is there a number to call? A park office? Unfortunately, no. It’s not a staffed park, just a retention pond with some trees and a parking area. And there are no 24/7 manatee cameras or the like.
- I’m in a wheelchair – can I get to the viewing area? Yes, several ways. One, the sidewalk on DeSoto overlooks the canal. Though it’s not as close as being in the grass, it’s still a pretty good view. Also, the grass from the parking lot to the canal is pretty even ground, so you could possibly go over that with assistance. From the parking area to the canal is about 30 feet over grass. There is also a wooden observation deck at the end of the canal that connects to the parking lot. (Scroll down to watch a short video I filmed showing the parking/grass area, so you know what to expect.)
- How exactly do I reach the park? If you are on South Patrick, turn onto DeSoto (heading East, it’s the only option). You will pass some townhouses on your right, and then you will see the canal on the right, immediately followed by a turn-in to the parking area. The park/retention pond is after the parking area, so if that is on your right you went a bit too far. You can make a U-turn at Caribbean, and then turn into the parking lot from DeSoto Westbound, in that case. If you are on A1a, turn onto DeSoto heading West (the only option), and go almost to the end of DeSoto. You’ll go through several stop signs, and after Caribbean, you’ll see the park on your left, and then a turn-in for the parking lot after the park. NOTE: If you google “DeSoto Park Canal for Manatees” it’s actually on Google Maps!
- What if there aren’t any manatees there when I go? That does happen, even on some chilly mornings. However, there is another spot that often has manatees that’s pretty close! Turn onto S. Patrick, heading North (a right off DeSoto), and travel about 2.2 miles to the intersection with Berkeley Street. Just north of Berkeley is a canal that sometimes has manatees. You can park along the side of the road on S. Patrick, and walk to the canal overpass. You might catch a glimpse of some manatees there.
- Can I find out if there are manatees there now, or when they will be there, by emailing? I’m sorry, no. I don’t live next to the canal, but about 1/4 mile away, so I don’t know when they’re there, or when they will be.
I’m sorry, I have to close comments, there are too many for me to keep track of! Just remember, cold mornings (usually under about 45 degrees) following cold days (under 55 degrees) will likely see lots of manatees in the canal. If it’s a warm day, or even a cold morning following a warm day, they are less likely to be there.
Here’s a short video I made to show you what the park looks like, and how close the canal is to the parking area.
I hope that helped! Let’s all support our manatees!
Please remember, do not feed or provide water to the manatees, that causes them to become comfortable with people, and puts them at risk around boats.
Scientists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) carefully track the population of the endangered manatees, so don’t be surprised if they show up to count and identify the manatees in the canal. They can identify many of the manatees specifically, usually based on characteristics like propeller scars and other distinguishing injuries.
It can be dangerous for the manatees coming to the canal. If it gets too cold, they can freeze and die (they actually travel to the canal to stay warm on cold nights), and they have in the past gotten stuck in the canal and in storm drains, so it’s important for any manatee watchers to keep a lookout for distress, in order to call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Service if need be.
Mostly, though, the manatees are there for anyone to watch and enjoy, and appreciate in their strange beauty. Hopefully our love of these amazing creatures will impel us to care for the Indian River Lagoon a bit better, as so much unique wildlife depends on it.
And when you come to Satellite Beach to check out the manatees, stay for some of the other things SB has to offer. DeSoto Park has free (and super close) parking to the manatees, and a great, accessible viewing area – but it also has a small lake with a fountain, a walking path, and some exercise equipment. Grab some lunch at Long Doggers or the Banana River Cafe, and then stroll on over to the Banana River Yard, right next door.
Update: This morning, December 24, 2022, it is 36 degree outside, and we expected more manatees, but there were only about 10. Yesterday it was warm (around 75), but today will be chilly, as will tonight and tomorrow, so tomorrow morning/early day will likely see a fair number of manatees in the canal. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!