Sharks and manatees mingle at TECO power plant discharge canal in Apollo Beach

On a chilly morning in Florida, a group of manatees basked in the sunlight while huddling together in the warm-water discharge canal of a power plant.

The beloved sea cows congregating at the Apollo Beach plant are a common sight this time of year, but it seems that sharks also discovered the giant hot tub. Both manatees and sharks were seen swimming together on Tuesday.

Manatees are true Floridians. When the weather dips to a chilly 68 degrees for long periods of time, they seek out warmth. 

On Tuesday morning, the low temperature in the Tampa area was just above 50 degrees. 

MORE: Closed for over a year, Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach final reopens

Those wishing to see the manatees – and sharks – up close can stop by Tampa Electric's Manatee Viewing Center. 

It was closed last year because of the pandemic, but reopened earlier this month. It’s located right across from the Big Bend Power Plant in Apollo Beach.

This time around, there will be safety protocols in place. There will be a limited capacity inside the gift shop and visitors are required to wear masks in all indoor areas. The Manatee Viewing Center will be open through April 15, except on holidays. 

Before the pandemic, the 50-acre Manatee Viewing Center drew nearly 400,000 visitors every season. In February 2020, the center welcomed its 6 millionth visitor, which was a milestone. Admission is free.

Usually, temperatures start to cool in Florida in November, which also happens to be Manatee Awareness Month. Their instincts tell them to head to a warmer area, and thousands of the gentle giants head to warmer waters, which includes the state’s springs or the TECO plant’s discharge canal.

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Because of this, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission chose the month to remind the public to keep an eye out for them – especially boaters. 

Back in 1975, the manatee was designated as Florida's official marine mammal. In 2017, they were reclassified from endangered to a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. However, the population has since faced a record number of deaths. 

A proposed bill would reclassify the manatees as an endangered species. The die-off has been declared an unusual mortality event.

MORE: ZooTampa: Manatees are starving in Florida, but you shouldn’t feed them in the wild

The manatee death rate has spiked to the highest number in nearly 50 years. More than 1,000 deaths have been reported in Florida, so far.

Conservationists said manatees live off seagrass, but algae blooms are killing off their food. There’s also more pollution now, especially fertilizer runoff from agriculture use and nitrogen-rich fertilizers people use on lawns.

LINK: For more information on FWC's efforts to protect manatees and how you can help, visit FWC's website.