“Please slow, manatees below” is a message boaters will see frequently on Kings Bay in Crystal River, Florida. The big yellow waterproof banners, furnished by Save the Manatee Club, are reminders to be watchful of endangered manatees and other widlife year round while on Florida’s busy waterways. Boaters can participate in manatee protection by holding aloft the banner whenever a manatee is sighted.
Manatee County, Florida, created in 1855, is named for these adorable water creatures. Commonly called a “sea cow,” manatees are actually related to the elephant, and are the state’s official marine mammal.
Visitors can get up close to the manatees and learn much more at The Parker Manatee Aquarium, designed to house three adult manatees. Its 60,000 gallons of water includes a medical pool; an exhibit area offers above- and below-water viewing, and specialists provide informative presentations. Working closely with US Fish and Wildlife and critical-care veterinary hospitals, the aquarium is a second-stage rehabilitation facility for manatees that will be released back into the wild after treatment.
The aquarium is part of Manatee County’s South Florida Museum, the largest natural and cultural history museum on the Gulf Coast. The museum includes displays of fossils, archeological artifacts, and exhibits explaining local maritime traditions and other interesting topics. The Bishop Planetarium, also located at the museum, presents astronomy programs featuring one of the most advanced all-digital projection systems in the world.
Located on Florida’s west coast just south of the Tampa Bay area and north of Sarasota, Manatee County includes the cities and towns of Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach, Longboat Key, Palmetto and its county seat, Bradenton. The population numbers 315,766 residents; its total area of 893 square miles includes 152 square miles of water. The median income for a household in the county is $38,673.
Manatee County is bordered by Hillsborough County to the north, Polk to the northeast, Hardee to the east, DeSoto to the southeast Sarasota County to the south. The county includes three national protected areas: Passage Key National Wildlife Refuge, Lake Manatee State Park and Myakka River State Park.
Manatee County’s vibrant art and culture scene includes several museums and Bradenton’s Village of the Arts, featuring more than 35 artists. The award-winning Manatee Players present musicals during the season from August to May.