You can certainly see them at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park.
I have never used any tours so can't help you there. We were in Homosassa a few weeks ago and they had 4 manatees in the springs and one in their rehab pond.
I keep reading this. We swam with them in Homosassa Springs last January (with American Pro Divers). Have the rules changed since then? I notice the town boat rental places still offer tours and still say you can rent a boat and swim with them on your own. I am VERY confused trying to figure out what the real rules are?
Here now. You are definitely allowed to swim and snorkel with manatees in the springs. And you don't need a tour. You can rent a boat or kayak. I don't know why people are writing this.
The confusion is because you CANNOT swim with the manatees INSIDE the Park, but there are independent excursions OUTSIDE the park where you CAN swim with them.
In Citrus County you are allowed to swim/snorkel with the manatees. This is the only area where it is legal to do so in the United States. Crystal River and Homosassa are two of the main areas in Citrus County to swim with the manatees. (Disclousure- I work for Crystal River Watersports, which is a tour company that offers manatee tours in Crystal River.)
Everyone, whether on a tour or their own boat, must must follow the rules of Passive Observation, which is required by law as the manatees are protected by Endangered Species Act and the Florida Wildlife Protection Act. You can see the video produced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services here: https:/…Manatee_Manners_Videos.html.
Essentially- you are allowed to swim/snorkel and observe the manatees. Any interaction is completely up to the manatees. Some simply want to eat and sleep, others will sometimes approach and interact with swimmers/kayakers if they are quiet and still in the water. From experience, we know that the manatees are much more likely to show interest/curiosity if the swimmers simply float and are quiet in the water. (In other words, you can't swim up to a manatee and touch it. They have to choose to come to you.)
Most people who are visiting the area choose to take a tour because the reputable companies will:
1) Provide a guide who will take care to make sure both you and the manatees are safe, and all rules are being followed,
2) Will provide all gear necessary (wet suits, masks, snorkels and a flotation device.
3) A U.S. Coast Guard licensed captain on the boat
4) A licensed and professionally run company that makes sure you are safe and the manatees are not harmed.
There is an organization called the Manatee Eco-Tour Association that is comprised of Tour companies, as well as other local businesses. They work closely with U.S FWS to provide training to captains and guides, and their rules for protection of the manatees are even more strict than those of FWS. If you choose one of those companies you know that they are committed to you having a great experience, while also protecting the manatees. Some of those companies are also working with Save the Manatee Club to put in place a Guardian Guide program that ensures the continued safety of the manatees. (This program is still in the beginning stages, so no companies have been approved yet- but the tour industry is working hard to promote manatee safety as well as providing an amazing experience to visitors to the area. )
The website for the Manatee Eco-Tour Association is here: http://www.manateeecotourism.org/members.php
Simply page down to the manatee tours area- and you can see the members that offer tours. You can then look at websites, and check out their TripAdvisor ratings to see which company offers the type of trip that you prefer.
If you have any other questions, please ask.
just as long as you follow the rules -- see post #5.