BRADENTON -- It's official: Snooty is old enough to sign up for Medicare.
Thought to be the oldest living manatee, Snooty brought out a crowd to help him celebrate this latest milestone. He's long been an official member of the AARP, which aggressively goes after members as soon as they turn 50. He became Manatee County's official mascot in 1979 -- 34 years ago -- and he hasn't been allowed to retire from that post yet since the Board of County Commissioners reaffirmed his mascot duties this year.
"Snooty's 65th is pretty monumental for Bradenton," said Brynne Anne Besio, executive director of South Florida Museum.
So it wasn't surprising to see hundreds of people out to sing "Happy Birthday" to the sea cow.
By now the birthday songs and the "birthday cake" are practically routine for this guy, who has been the center of an annual celebration for 45 years now.
The vegetarian -- all manatees are herbivores -- is allowed two sweets on his birthday, strawberries and pineapple. The staff at the South Florida Museum says they are his favorite foods.
His longevity may be credited, in part, to his apple a day habit. He sees the vet twice a year because he is so healthy.
"He eats 70 pounds of romaine lettuce a day, along with broccoli, sweet potatoes, cabbage, kale, and carrots," said Jessica Schubick, communications manager at the South Florida Museum. "He loves sweets so he gets one apple every morning."
Celebrants were not limited to cabbage and kale as the Suncoast Food trucks gathered to help feed the masses -- 5,000 were expected throughout the day -- and Blue Bell offered ice cream samples and Dakin Dairy Farms offered free cookies and chocolate milk. Local Coffee + Tea even offered a new peach tea in honor of Snooty's birthday.
Of course it also helps that he has lived in a protected environment for most of his life.
"One of the things we do is we keep the tank clean and regulate the temperature of the tank," Schubick said.
Because his environment contributed to his longevity, his birthday celebration included a nod to the importance of environmental protection.
"One thing that Snooty's 65th shows is that when we protect the environment manatees can live longer,"
Wildlife and community exhibitors gathered to show the significance of this event.
"This is a big community event," Besio said. "Snootycan really help us teachabout environmental protection."
Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, Sea to Shore Alliance, Mote Marine, Manatee County Natural Resources and the Science and Environmental Council were all on hand to spread the word about wildlife awareness and protecting the environment -- such as sea grasses, a main food source for manatees in the wild -- to help wildlife survive.
As the county has grown, Snooty's popularity has also swelled.
"I'm a longtime Manatee County resident," John Leonard, 57, said. "I knew Snooty all the way back when he was at the pier in Bradenton."
The pier was too small for the 1,020-pound manatee, so he was moved to the museum in 1966.
Living in a regulatedaquarium at the South Florida Museum has allowed Snooty to live longer, Schubick said.
"Snooty didn't face harsh environments because he's in his pool," Schubick said.
Leonard said it's a good feeling to see the manatee make it to 65 so he brought his grandchildren to join in the excitement, too.
"He's really good," Leonard's grandson, 5-year-old Eli Winkelman said. "We made a birthday card for him, too."
This year, Snooty's birthday bash kicked off with dance performers, Sarasota Jungle Gardens animal presentation, and a proclomation and birthday song led by Mayor Wayne Poston.
Following the birthday song, winners of Snooty's birthday card presentation contest were announced. Winners received prizes from places such as Chick-Fil-A, Busch Gardens Tampa, Florida Railroad Museum, Steak 'n Shake, MOSI and Circus Sarasota.
Schubick was expecting more than 5,000 visitors this year, since the city closed 10th Street West to make more room for the celebration.
And while Snooty -- like many 65-year-olds -- may be happy to skip future birthday celebrations, that won't happen.
Program coordinators will begin preparing for next year's event immediately.
"We will start making preparations right away to make Snooty's 66th birthday event an even more memorable one," Schubick said.