BRADENTON, Fla. -- Things are a little different here on the Suncoast than in many cities. We form strong bonds with the wildlife here—turtles, dolphins and birds.
But there is one creature from the wild that occupies a bigger place in our hearts than any other: Snooty the manatee.
“He's very famous we know people know about him over in Europe as well here in this country," said Brynne Anne Besif, CEO of the South Florida Museum in Bradenton.
It's hard to imagine the museum without him, Besif explained. “Snooty is one of the parts of the original parts of the collection of the museum and I think as such he is part of the heart and soul of the community."
Snooty was born in captivity in 1948 in Miami. When his mother died, he came here in 1949. “He came to visit for the Desoto celebration and the South Florida Museum agreed to take care of him, and at that point Manatee County liked the idea of having a manatee around as a mascot," said Marilyn Margold, director of the museum’s living collections.
At 66, he's the oldest manatee in captivity. The “Save the Manatees” club says manatees in the wild don't usually reach the age of 30 due to man-made causes. Snooty is therefore a shining example of how long this endangered species can survive if we just take care.
Scientists studying him have learned a great deal about manatees. Aarin-Conrad Allen, Manatee Care Specialist revealed, “Manatees are definitely smarter than we thought they were. Snooty is a trainable animal; we've taught him to roll over. Of course if he participates that's another thing."
Snooty definitely has a mind of his own. He bonds with his caretakers and takes a liking to certain visitors. “We think that he prefers blonds over brunettes and bald men over men with hair."
His next birthday is going to be a huge celebration. “Maybe 3 or 4 thousand of his friends will be here visiting with him that day—we have lots of free activities that day. You can come and sing happy birthday to Snooty." There will be many other environmental and wild life organizations, games and other activities. “We have games for kids and adults if they'd like to play those games too."
And of course Snooty will be the star of the show. He'll get a manatee's version of a birthday cake. "It's cabbage and carrots and strawberries, and it's his one time a year he gets fruit and he does love the fruit. A little pineapple juice makes it delicious for him."
And just by being the jolly, loveable guy he is, he'll inspire all who see him to protect manatees.
“I think that's his big take-away message: let’s protect this environment. Keep manatees and other living creatures safe.”
You don’t turn 66 everyday, so come help Snooty celebrate. Festivities are at the South Florida Museum this Saturday, July 19, from 10AM – 2PM.