What’s it like rubbing flippers with a superstar? Just ask “Longo” and “Cheeno,” the two young male manatees who arrived in Bradenton last Thursday and are now discovering what it’s like to share quarters with 64-year-old Snooty, the world’s oldest living manatee and South Florida Museum’s resident superstar.
Longo, rescued off of Longboat Key in January of 2012, and Cheeno, rescued in the Caloosahatchee River in February of 2012, first spent a little over a year rehabilitating from cold stress at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. The Zoo maintains a not-for-profit hospital to care for critically injured, sick and orphaned manatees.
Prolonged exposure to water temperatures below 68 °F (20 °C) can bring about "cold stress syndrome” in manatees, a life-threatening condition similar to frostbite in humans.
The South Florida Museum serves as a second-stage rehabilitation facility, and will now provide a temporary home for the two new manatees while they put on additional weight and can be released back in the wild. Since the two juveniles now weigh less than 700 pounds each, it is expected that Snooty’s newest roommates will be around for about a year.
Born at the old Miami Aquarium in 1948, Snooty’s arrival was a happy surprise for keepers who'd left one manatee swimming in the tank in the evening and come back the next day to find two instead. His was the first recorded birth of a manatee in captivity.
After his mother was released, Snooty was brought to Bradenton in 1949 as part of the DeSoto Celebration. He now serves as Manatee County’s official mascot, and has greeted more than a million visitors to his home on the Suncoast. His affectionate, friendly nature has helped visitors understand and appreciate the intelligence and unique characteristics of this endangered species.
Snooty welcomed his first pool mate “Newton” in 1998, and over the years since has graciously shared his 60,000-gallon tank in the museum's Parker Manatee Aquarium with more than 20 different recuperating manatees. Because of his lifelong association with humans, Snooty has been classified as non-releasable, thus he is the only manatee at the aquarium allowed to directly interact with human handlers.
Snooty’s ongoing participation in several research studies, including current research on the characteristics of manatee vocalizations, has helped to expand science’s understanding of the Florida manatee.
Each July, several generations of visitors join Snooty in celebrating his birthday at a free “Birthday Bash and Wildlife Awareness Festival” at the Museum. Snooty receives thousands of birthday cards from children all across the country, prompting Ashley Burke, the museum curator of collections, to joke, “He gets more mail than the curator."
The South Florida Museum is participating in The Giving Partner 36-Hour Giving Challenge, recognizing and supporting the work of nonprofits serving Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto Counties. Gifts made during the 36-Hour Giving Challenge are 100% tax-deductible and will support overall Museum operations.
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