BRADENTON -- Kids pressed their hands and noses against the aquarium glass hoping to catch a glimpse of the birthday boy Saturday at Snooty's 64th Birthday Bash and Wildlife Awareness Festival at the South Florida Museum and Parker Manatee Aquarium.
Snooty, the oldest manatee in captivity, was joined by some of his biggest fans at the event. "Baby Snoots," as the male manatee was first called, was born July 21, 1948 at the old Miami Aquarium and Tackle Company. He has been a part of Manatee County's history, since 1949 when he was brought to Bradenton's DeSoto celebration.
Now, the 9-foot, 8-inch manatee, weighing 1,205 pounds has greeted more than 2 million visitors, according to a release from the South Florida Aquarium.
"Snooty is the oldest manatee in
captivity and we believe the oldest manatee to live," said Marilyn Margold, aquarium director. "Manatees in the wild are lucky to survive into the double digits because of boat strikes, fishing line entanglement and cold stress. Snooty doesn't have to worry about that."
People of all ages gathered along the sidewalk and in the Spanish Plaza to participate in the annual birthday party.
Kids played games, ran through an inflatable obstacle course and dug for fossils. Passers-by stopped to watch The Garbage-Men, a band of three young men whose instruments are "made of garbage" -- trash cans, cereal boxes and yardsticks. Young and old alike asked animal keepers from Sarasota Jungle Garden about their rescued horned owl and rare brown-and-white-striped skunk.
"It's an opportunity for the community to interact and for us to show off our animals," Margold said, expecting 4,000 to 5,000 attendees. "It's really turned into a celebration of wildlife."
Cynthia Truewell was joined at the bash by her daughter, Melanie Ayer, and grandchildren, Savannah, 4. and Robert, 2.
"My mom brought me when I was a little girl," Melanie said, recalling childhood memories of feeding Snooty carrots and apples. "We were here visiting grandma from Atlanta and it just happened to be this weekend."
The celebration is also a childhood memory of Alan Hensley who was accompanied by his wife and children.
"I think this event gets people down here to learn about the museum and see what they have to offer," said Hensley, who grew up in Bradenton and has a membership to the aquarium.
Other families began celebrating Snooty's birthday more recently.
"We came last year so it's becoming a tradition for us," said David Martin who was with his wife, Jamie, and 4-year-old daughter, Sara. "We're fans of the museum and we like science. There are a lot of cool kids activities, too."
When asked her favorite part of the day, Sara was quick to shout, "Face-painting," as evidenced by the pink and purple butterfly decorating her face.
Museum employees also recognized winners of four different age groups who had handmade cards for Snooty. The cards, of all different shapes and sizes, lined the wall outside Snooty's aquarium.
Elizabeth Johnson, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041.