When you ask most people what's special about Bradenton, Fla., you'll probably get answers like "I don't know, I've never been there," or "It's on the Gulf side of Florida" or "It has a great beach, right?"
If you're a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, then you'd probably answer that Bradenton houses Pirate City, the Pirates' minor league and spring training facility where the majors train in February, the minors play from March through May, the Gulf Coast League plays from June through August, and the Instructional League plays September through October. A Pirates' fan might also answer that in Bradenton at McKechnie Field you can watch the Pirates go up against other major league teams in March.
If you've spent a bit of time in Bradenton or know your horses, you'd probably answer that the world-renowned Royal Lipizzaner Stallions from Austria are trained at Colonel Herrmann's Ranch in nearby Myakka City from January through March.
(Photo by Barb Romick)
Snooty swims the day away at the Parker Manatee Aquarium of the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, Fla.
But if you ask me what's special about Bradenton, I'll tell you it's where I fell in love - with Snooty. Snooty is 59 years old, the oldest manatee living in captivity, and probably the oldest living manatee in the world.
I've always liked manatees; they just look so cute and cuddly. So when my husband, John, and I decided on a road trip around Florida, I was determined to see at least one manatee.
I figured our best bet for a manatee sighting would be at one of the documented manatee sighting locations. We drove to the Manatee Observation and Education Center in Fort Pierce, Fla., where we stood and watched for about an hour and a half before one of the volunteers told us that we were a bit late for manatee viewing. We had arrived in mid-March, and most of the manatee sightings had been over for a few weeks; they only saw an occasional straggler this late in the season.
Well, I wouldn't give up; we stopped at two other manatee viewing areas but had no luck seeing a manatee.
As I said, I was determined to see a manatee, and that's when I found out about Snooty.
Snooty is the world's most recognized manatee, and he lives in the Parker Manatee Aquarium of the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, Fla. My husband, who loves exploring our country as much as I do, never minds when I suggest a side trip. So when I wanted to see Snooty, he just said, "Tell me what road to take," and kept on driving.
After paying admission to the South Florida Museum, I rapidly made my way to the Parker Aquarium for my first glimpse of Snooty. He was awesome.
I had arrived in time for one of the manatee presentations. The museum worker introduced Snooty; and I learned that Snooty was 59 years old; he had been born on July 21, 1948, at the Miami Aquarium and Tackle Company. He was originally called Baby Snoots, but his name was changed after he arrived at the Parker Aquarium.
During the presentation, I kept hearing crunching noises. Other members of the audience also heard the noises because we were all looking around trying to figure out where the noises were coming from. It turned out that the noise was Snooty. The program presenter explained that there was a hydrophone in the enclosure, and we were hearing Snooty chew his food.
The presenter went on to explain that Snooty eats about 95 pounds of food a day. In the wild, most manatees eat water hyacinths; but not Snooty. His favorite food is romaine lettuce followed by broccoli. However, Snooty, just like most of us, likes his sweets, and he finishes off each meal with carrots and apples to satisfy his sweet tooth.
After the presentation was over, I stayed to get a few more pictures of Snooty. The presenter lobbed pieces of broccoli into the tank to get Snooty to turn toward my camera. She explained that Snooty's vision, like that of all manatees, is not very good; but his hearing is excellent. Snooty could not really see me or the presenter. She was only 2 feet away from him, but he could hear the horns of the boats out in the marina more than a block away from the museum.
Snooty's pool holds about 60,000 gallons of water, exceeds federal standards, has both above- and below-water viewing, and even has an adjacent medication pool where Snooty's doctor can examine him. Snooty's pool has two levels - a deeper area for swimming and a shallow ledge for eating.
Up until 1998, Snooty always lived alone; but in February, 1998, the Parker Manatee Aquarium was designated a part of the Manatee Rehabilitation Network by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Snooty now has an occasional pool mate, which is a manatee that is being readied for re-release to its natural habitat.
Snooty's birthday celebration is a very special event held at the museum. According to the Web site, "Generations of visitors help Snooty celebrate his birthday at a free Birthday Bash and Wildlife Awareness Festival, complete with a birthday card contest and treats for the kids. This is very special because Snooty was the first manatee to have an actual, recorded birth date!"
Now, any time I want to see Snooty, I don't have to drive to Florida.
Snooty is as close as my computer because the South Florida Museum has a "Snooty Cam" which can be accessed at their Web site www.southflorida museum.org/aquarium.