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How to Find Dolphins, Manatees, and More in Tampa Bay

boat rentals manatee

Tampa Bay is Florida’s largest estuary, and that comes with being home to over 200 species of fish, 305 species of birds, and countless other forms of wildlife that call the Bay home. And when you take out a boat or jet ski, you’ve got a chance to take an up close and personal look!

Today we’re covering the animals that you want to find around Tampa Bay and where you can spot them. And we’re going to start with everyone’s favorite marine mammal: dolphins!

1. Where to Find Dolphins in Tampa Bay

Did you know that more than 700 dolphins live in Tampa Bay? And they’re not shy, so on any given boat rental, you have a great chance of naturally spotting dolphins no matter where you are! But if you’ve been out a handful of times and haven’t managed to see a dolphin pod, there is one place you can go to improve your chances.

Tampa Bay dolphins

Upper Boca Ciega Bay is a GREAT place for some dolphin spotting! Many pods call that area home, so it’s very common to see several dolphins swimming together. If you’re lucky, you might even see them jumping out of the water! For the best chances of success, head out in the morning, when dolphins are more active because of the calmer waters.

2. Spotting Manatees from Your Boat Rental

Whether you’re visiting or a long-term resident, manatees are always exciting to see. Original mermaid legends are believed to be based on sailors spotting manatees from a distance, and maybe they’re no Ariel, we’d like to think that manatees are beautiful in their own way!

Manatees have been known to frequent the Intracoastal Waterway because they like to float between docks. Alternatively, you can check out the area we call “The Flats,” which is close to the Dick Misener Bridge. Remember, whenever you’re looking for manatees, go slowly! Not only do large waves disturb them, but they tend to float pretty close to the surface. If you’re not careful, you could accidentally hit one with your boat, so take it slow and enjoy the sights!

3. Where to Find Coastal Birds

bird spotting St. Pete

Not all of the wildlife around Tampa Bay stays in the water! More than 50,000 pairs of coastal birds live in the area, which makes a boat rental the perfect time to do some bird spotting. Some of the common fare for bird watchers are:

  • Great blue heron
  • White heron
  • Osprey
  • Egret
  • Ibis

And good news: You can see all of these without ever stepping off your boat! Try floating around Shell Key or Egmont Key, because both of these islands have their own bird preserves. That means that spotting birds around the Bay is as easy as busting out the binoculars and heading out on the water!

4. Rare Critters to Watch Out For

Up to this point, you can pretty reliably see everything on this list if you follow our advice. But for the adventurers who love a challenge, there are less common sights that you can keep an eye open for. While these ones are a bit harder to spot, that just makes a sighting even more rewarding!

  • Sea slugs
  • Stone crab
  • Blue crab
  • Green sea turtles
  • Jellyfish (don’t worry—they prefer floating offshore, so you’re safe at the beach!)

It’ll take a keen eye and some patience, but if you want a calm day on the water to just enjoy the nature around you, these are all great marine life to watch out for!

Head Out on the Water and Bring a Camera!

Getting to see these creatures in their natural habitat is a gift, so make sure to have your cameras ready! If you follow our advice, you’ll have a great time on the water and give yourself the best possible chance to snap that perfect pic before heading home.

Ready to schedule your boat rental? You can book online, call our crew at (727) 867-0077, or send your questions to Tampa Bay is a beautiful space filled with adventure, so head on out and make the most of it!