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Snooty draws a crowd

BRADENTON — A crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to him at noon. Birthday cards hung from the wall outside his tank. Dozens of visitors passed by, wishing him many more happy years.

It was Snooty the manatee’s birthday party.

He turns 61 Tuesday.

“He’s set another benchmark for us,” said Jeff Rodgers, director of education at the Parker Manatee Aquarium, South Florida Museum. “As far as we know, Snooty’s the oldest living manatee in captivity and possibly the oldest living manatee in the world.”

About 5,000 people were expected to file by the viewing floors of Snooty’s glass tank during the day, Rodgers estimated.

A new hands-on manatee exhibit located in the lobby near his tank was unveiled for the occasion. The exhibit will help people understand more about a manatee’s anatomy, diet and other details.

“Snooty has always been a beloved icon, but he’s also presented us with a tremendous opportunity to teach,” Rodgers said.

The Clark family from Indiana made sure they stayed an extra day in Bradenton, just so they could attend the party. They said they had read about him in tourism brochures since they started vacationing in the area three years ago.

“We’ve always had to leave the day it happened,” said mom Shelley Clark. “This year we planned it so we could come.”

Mary Ann Lasson wouldn’t have missed Snooty’s party for anything. She was wearing a T-shirt commemorating the day and getting her photo taken in front of a Snooty poster just outside his tank.

“I think it’s an honor to see him,” she said. “It’s a blessing he’s still here.”

Snooty was born July 21, 1948, at the Miami Aquarium and Tackle Company. Then known as Baby Snoots, the manatee was brought to Manatee County in 1949 with his mother, Lady, for the 1949 Hernando DeSoto Celebration as part of a manatee exhibit.

When the Miami aquarium closed in 1949, Snooty was moved to Bradenton permanently.

Throughout Saturday, Snooty made numerous appearances to the edge of the tank, looking for a rub or a treat from his caretakers as the crowd watched. In recent years, the sexagenarian has taken to a little quieter lifestyle, said Marilyn Margold, aquarium director.

“He doesn’t do some of the things he used to do five years ago,” she said. “He takes a few more naps than he used to, indicative of a lot of us when we grow older.”

Given a clean bill of health last week from his veterinarian, Snooty has lost a little weight and grown a few inches, said Margold. Snooty’s length went from 9-feet-4-inches to 9-feet-7 inches, she said.

Not unusual for an aging manatee, because as they grow older, their bones continue to grow, said Margold.

“We think a lot of it is in the tail,” she said.

To keep his 1,190-pound figure, Snooty had to scale down on the birthday treats from years past, which used to consist of a cake made from strawberries and pineapple bits, said Margold.

“He’ll have broccoli and sweet potatoes soaked in pineapple juice,” she said. We’ll wait until the end of the day to do it, so if he wants to nap, he can do it.”

Although retreating to the upper ledge of the tank when he wants to doze, Snooty was doing anything but napping as people crowded around his tank to get a glimpse.

“He gets more excited when people are around,” said Margold. “When he knows there’s a crowd, he’s where the people are.”