Manatee viewing center open at TECO Big Bend plant - FOX 13 News

Manatee viewing center open at TECO Big Bend plant

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APOLLO BEACH (FOX 13) -

It's starting to feel like fall in Tampa Bay, and that means the manatees will be heading back to the warm waters around Tampa Electric's Big Bend Power Plant in Apollo Beach.

The manatees come into the canal when the water temperature of Tampa Bay drops below 68 degrees.

Now that the center is officially open for the season, they made a ton of improvements to the facility.

There's a new 40-foot tall observation tower, a boardwalk that links to a trail, and tours are available.

Once an expected cold front moves through this weekend, the manatees will begin to gather to warm up.

"But when the Bay waters drop below 70 degrees or so, we can get hundreds of them in here at a time. They come in for the warm water. They do have to go out and feed, that kind of thing," said Jamie Woodlee with TECO. "When you get manatees in here, and you see momma and the babies, and hear the excitement in people's voices, it's exciting."

The official manatee season in Florida runs October 31 to March 31st.

There's just a couple months left in 2013, and it's already the deadliest year on record for manatees in the state.

Officials from Save the Manatees say 769 have died so far. That surpasses the 766 manatees that died in 2010, many lot of them from cold stress.

This year's spike could be from a toxic red tide bloom in southwest Florida.

The manatee viewing center is open every day through April 15th.

Admission is free, so it's definitely worth coming out here to check it out and find some manatees!

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