Giant tarpon, leaping rays swim alongside manatees at TECO power plant

It’s not unusual to see a variety of wildlife at TECO’s Big Bend power plant, but Friday morning, it was tarpon that were out in full force.

Warm water flowing out of the power plant is a popular spot for chilly manatees to gather during the winter. Like most Florida residents, manatees cannot tolerate temperatures below 68 degrees for long periods of time. When the temperatures begin to cool, thousands of the gentle giants migrate to warmer waters like the state's springs and the TECO plant's discharge canal.

But the manatees are not the only ones attracted to the Apollo Beach plant. 

"We’ve had lots of sharks out here," Jamie Woodley, a senior environmental technician with TECO, told FOX 13 in December. "We have lots of eagle rays that jump out of the water, spinner sharks that come out of the water and we even spotted a goliath grouper by the dock two days ago."

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SkyFOX spotted one of those eagle rays making a large splash Friday morning, along with a few dozen manatees drifting by. They were outnumbered, though, by what appeared to be hundreds of large tarpon.

Tarpon can grow to lengths of up to 8 feet, and from the air, many of the tarpon indeed appeared to be nearly as long as the manatees, who can grow to 11 feet. 

Don’t head down there hoping to snag one, though. The area around the plant is a preserve for all wildlife – free to visit, featuring everything from nature trails to touch tanks.

The manatee viewing center reopened to the public in November after being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic the previous season.

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