This time of year we get a lot of visitors who want to see Florida wildlife. When they say that what they’re mainly referring to is alligators, manatees, dolphins, sharks, and different types of white birds, kinds they don’t see where they’re from.
But before you go out hunting for National Geographic-worthy experiences with alligators or sharks, it’s important to know a few basics on how to approach them safely and where to do so.
Natural Habitats vs. Nature
Of course, we run an educational conservation-oriented animal operation so we may be slightly biased. But it’s important to point out the difference between enjoying these animals in nature and seeing them in natural habitats. At Alligator Attraction, we provide our animals with the comfort of as natural a habitat as possible. This allows people to view and interact with the animals without hurting themselves or our critters. But while many people say they want to go and see these animals in nature, interaction between humans and animals in a natural setting is not always a positive one.
First, sneaking up on an animal is not advisable. If you want to watch them and their natural behavior, it’s much safer to do so from a distance with binoculars or a telephoto lens. Still, we have our share of people who come to the Sunshine State in the hopes of creating a viral YouTube video. They will do things like chum the waters to bring on sharks. This is not beneficial for the animal or for the viewer. It can be dangerous for both.
If you want to see Florida wildlife in a natural habitat the following places offer safe ways to spot them. Remember, you always want to give wildlife its distance. If you must get up close and personal, do so in an area designed for it like Alligator Attraction.
Sawgrass Lake Park
Sawgrass Lake Park in Pinellas County is one of the best places for viewing alligators at a safe distance. Visitors can walk on the elevated boardwalk and tower to see lots of Florida animals while still keeping a safe distance. Animals frequently spotted here include herons, egrets, alligators, turtles, and wood storks. This is also a very popular migration spot. Birdwatchers love it here.
Okay, admittedly this is a little bit of a cheat. This isn’t a spot to see sharks, at least not all of them. This place is the perfect spot to find their teeth. Venice Beach in Sarasota County is considered the shark tooth capital of the world. These beaches are perfect for finding sharks’ teeth both recent and prehistoric. Best spots for finding one of these unique souvenirs are on beach access points south of the Venice Jetty, such as Casey Key and Manasota Key.
There are several causeway bridges in the area that link the mainland to the beaches. Some of them are also drawbridges. If you find yourself lucky enough to be waiting on a drawbridge, take a look at the water. You will often see some of our frolicking marine friends playing tag around the bridge pilings. It’s not difficult to find dolphins in this area.
Also keep your eyes open in the Intracoastal or while you’re sitting at the beach. Since dolphins are social animals where you see one fin you generally will find several.
Weedon Island Preserve
Weedon Island Preserve is another great spot to see some of Florida’s locals. Birders love this 3,190-acre preserve. You can go on an expert-led hike or go at your own pace and stroll along their boardwalk and climb their observation tower. If you have a little extra time, try kayaking through some of the mangroves. Just make sure to bring the bug spray as this natural area is full of another kind of Florida local…mosquitos.
Honeymoon Island is located in Dunedin in North Pinellas County. The state park has white sandy beaches perfect for shelling, some small dunes, and hiking trails. The shores of this area provide a great place to see dolphins and if you follow some of the hiking trails there’s a good chance you’ll see snakes as well. Occasionally, you might even see manatees floating by in the warm waters.
Again, Florida offers many opportunities to see animals most people never get to see in the wild. However, it is important to understand these animals are wild. It is illegal to harass them or feed them.
If you want that type of an interaction, please come to Alligator Attraction. Here you can interact with our rescued animals in a safe and secure environment. With some of our animals, you may even be able to feed them, something you can’t do in the wild.