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Florida, Georgia, Texas

8 Gulf Coast and Southeastern Marine Wildlife Experiences You Can’t Miss

By: Elizabeth Moore

G.P Schmahl
1 of 1
  • States:
    Florida
    Georgia
    Texas

Want to make wild memories? Consider these eight wildlife experiences.

At night on a Florida beach, you can witness an ancient ritual: Sea turtles come ashore to dig a nest in the sand at the same place where they hatched many years ago. Lucky travelers will see them lay ping-pong ball-sized eggs, which will hatch to become the next generation of sea turtles to lay eggs on Florida’s shores. This is just one of many marine wildlife viewing opportunities available in the Southeast and Gulf Coast regions of the United States.

Near Key West, Florida

Dolphins

Wild dolphins inhabit Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary year-round. Dolphin Smart-recognized operators can take you out to see these charismatic mammals in a way that won’t disturb them. Stop by the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center and learn about the habitats and animals that this archipelago houses.

 

Nurse Sharks

Each winter, laid-back nurse sharks come to Dry Tortugas National Park, one of the most remote U.S. National Parks. It’s accessible only by boat, ferry or seaplane. But if you go, you’ll be rewarded with views of turquoise seas, a historic fort and wildlife. Only authorized concessionaires can provide diving, fishing and wildlife-viewing tours. Reach the park from quirky and historic Key West.

A bottlenose dolphin spy-hops to see what's going on above the water

A bottlenose dolphin spy-hops to see what's going on above the water
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Adam Li Noaa

Near Savannah, Georgia

Loggerhead Sea Turtles

Loggerhead sea turtles, a threatened species, spend time off the shore of Georgia year-round, including feeding and resting in Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. Between late May and mid-August, the loggerheads come ashore to lay their eggs on Georgia barrier islands and beaches. Start your trip in historic Savannah, and then take a turtle tour on Tybee Island or Jekyll Island.

Near Jacksonville, Florida

Sandhill Cranes

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge hosts nesting sandhill cranes during March and April, as well as other wading birds including ibises, egrets and herons. You might even see an alligator or black bear, too. The refuge has more than 143,000 hectares of wilderness, so visitors can experience the solitude and beauty of a wild swamp.

Near Miami, Florida

Alligators and Crocodiles

Alligators and crocodiles can be found year-round in Everglades National Park, but the best viewing takes place during winter dry season (December through April). That’s when wildlife concentrates at watering holes. You can visit the vast national park by car, on foot, by boat or with a guide.

See alligators cool off while visiting Everglades National Park in Florida.

See alligators cool off while visiting Everglades National Park in Florida.
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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
More information

Near Tampa, Florida

Manatees

Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is home to some of Florida’s threatened manatees. These adorably homely giants can best be viewed in winter months from a boardwalk or by kayaking the springs. Please remember your manatee manners, however you choose to look. Start your visit in Orlando or St. Petersburg.

Manatees move slowly enough that algae may grow on their backs, like in the dark mat on this animal.

Manatees move slowly enough that algae may grow on their backs, like in the dark mat on this animal.
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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Near Galveston, Texas

Mass Coral Spawning Events

Mass coral spawning events occur each year at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, located offshore near Galveston. Each year for seven to 10 nights after the full moon in August, several species of coral release their gametes, making it look like an underwater snowstorm. If you’re up for a challenging dive, a number of dive operators can take you to witness the phenomenon.

Boulder brain coral prepares to release its gametes during the creatures’ annual mass spawning event off the coast of Texas.

Boulder brain coral prepares to release its gametes during the creatures’ annual mass spawning event off the coast of Texas.
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G.P. Schmahl Noaa

Near Corpus Christi, Texas

Many Different Birds

You’ll find an amazing variety of birds each winter at Padre Island National Seashore. At the nearby Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, the whooping crane, rescued from the brink of extinction in the 1940s, can be seen from mid-October to mid-March. Tour operators can take you on the water for a better view.

No matter where you travel, please follow basic ocean etiquette to view these wonderful creatures in a way that protects them, their habitats and you.

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