Photo courtesy of Tampa Electric. A crowd taking in the manatees.

It is that time of the year again as the manatees take up residence near TECO Energy’s Big Bend Power Station. Bring your family and friends to visit and take this chance to marvel at the sea cows at the Manatee Viewing Center.

The manatees make the clean bay water in Tampa Electric’s discharge canal their home from November through April. The area maintains temperatures in the low 70s, allowing manatees to comfortably thrive. Water below 68 degree Fahrenheit can make manatees cold stressed, causing sickness and sometimes death.

Although they were reclassified as a threatened species last year, manatees exist in low numbers and are vulnerable to endangerment, so TECO provides a wonderful opportunity for manatee populations of Florida to live and grow healthily at the Manatee Viewing Center.

In addition to providing these marine mammals an area to prosper, people are given the chance to have a fun time while seeing and learning about the manatees.

The Manatee Viewing Center provides an environmental education building featuring great photos and information about manatees. The education building also has puzzle tables, game kiosks, manatee bones and power plant, solar energy and stewardship information.

Other attractions include viewing platforms, a 900 ft. tidal walk through a mangrove forest that goes out over the water, 10-15 minute movie about manatees, natures trails, 50 ft. wildlife observation tower, sandbox and chalkboard area, butterfly garden, gift shop and concession stand. There is also a stingray touch tank that, in partnership with the Florida Aquarium, acts as the off-season home of the actual mascots of Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays.

Visiting the Manatee Viewing Center is free. Along with being operated by Tampa Electric, the gift shop, concession stand and donation boxes all help fund the facility.

As many as 342,000 visitors spent time at the Manatee Viewing Center last year.

The Manatee Viewing Center is open now through April 15, 2019. It is located at 6990 Dickman Rd. in Apollo Beach and is open all week from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. The center is closed on Christmas Eve (at 3 p.m.), Christmas Day and Easter. Parking is free.

For more information, visit www.tampaelectric.com/company/mvc/, call 228-4289 or use TECO’s Residential Contact Us Form at www.tampaelectric.com/forms/residential/contact/ (select Manatee Viewing Center in the pull-down box).