Moments after Sarasota resident Foster Swartz, 18, beat out two challengers Monday to become the official Snooty the Manatee mascot, he invented the “Snooty Shuffle” to honor the real Snooty, the oldest manatee in captivity in the world.
“It’s not really hard,” said Swartz, who demonstrated to his audience how to pull their arms tight to their body and move their legs in a flipper fashion — sort of the way the real Snooty, who turns 69 this week, moves around in the Parker Manatee Aquarium at the South Florida Museum.
The highly creative Swartz, who participated in theatrical productions at Pine View School in Sarasota where he just graduated, wrote the reasons why he would be the best candidate for the Snooty mascot in a poem. He read it aloud with plenty of flair during his audition Monday in the Bishop Planetarium, along with two other “short list” candidates.
Swartz’s first official gig is Snooty’s 69th Birthday Bash & Wildlife Festival, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Parker Aquarium, 201 10th St. W.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better applicant to be Snooty the Manatee,” museum spokeswoman Jessica Schubick said moments after Swartz was announced the winner. “Foster is such an amazing young man. He obviously has a very bright future, and we are so proud that he gets to be our first official Snooty’s Birthday Bash mascot.”
The judges were all local mascots, including Gilly the Shark from Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, Maverick the Manatee from State College of Florida, Rocky D. Bull from the University of South Florida, Ruben the Reading Lion from The Ringling, and Scully the Pelican from the World Rowing Championship.
The auditions drew media, museum staff and kids from the South Florida Museum’s youth camp who later got to come down and hug Swartz after he put on his new, custom-made soft gray manatee costume. The head of the costume doesn’t move, but the flippers do. Swartz later reported that it was very warm inside the costume and that his range of movement inspired the Snooty Shuffle.
“I liked that he didn’t have any fur because real manatees don’t have fur,” said Mason Browne, 9, one of the campers who got to hug the new mascot. “He was smooth. He’s a good mascot.”
Swartz bested fellow short-list candidates Steve Dickman, an experienced mascot from the area, and Craig Phillip, an associate professor of chemistry and natural sciences coordinator at Hanover College in southern Indiana, who has always had on his life’s bucket list to be a manatee mascot.
Swartz’s audition was so over the top that when Dickman came out to audition, he started by saying, “I would vote for him.”
Swartz, whose role is volunteer, will go to public places on behalf of the museum to represent Snooty and spread the word about how manatees live in the wild, Schubick added.