BRADENTON — Snooty the manatee has three house guests, and they are expected to stay for the next month or so.
Three young male manatees that had been rehabilitated at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa came south in a panel truck Thursday afternoon, and were hoisted one by one to the second story of Parker Manatee Aquarium at the South Florida Museum.
The relocation frees up space at the zoo for manatees suffering from acute cold distress.
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“Have you had your Wheaties today?” said one of the team of zoo and museum staff and volunteers who moved the 550-pound manatees from the truck on blue stretchers.
Once inside the building, the manatees were lowered gently into a receiving pool. Each swam out to meet 61-year-old Snooty, the world’s oldest known manatee.
The first manatee moved into the aquarium was Bolee, a July 2009 victim of a boat strike near Bokeelia in Lee County.
Next was Teco 2, rescued in March 2009, suffering from cold stress in the Tampa Bay area.
Last to move inside was Cayman, an orphaned male who was rescued from the Caribbean in August 2006. Cayman was flown to Florida aboard a Lear Jet.
“It’s great that they can come here to free up space for the animals most needing critical care,” said Jaime Vaccaro, an animal care specialist from Lowry, as she calmed Cayman, who thrashed about in the truck awaiting his turn to be moved to the aquarium.
David Murphy, veterinarian for Snooty and Lowry Park Zoo, said the three wild manatees transferred to Bradenton are now perfectly healthy.
“Snooty is really unique. He’s setting an age record every day he lives. He has led a pretty sheltered life and is more interested in people than other manatees,” Murphy said.
The introduction of the trio of manatees will help remind Snooty that he is still a manatee, Murphy said.
Snooty can serve as a mentor for the young manatees, said Marilyn Margold, aquarium director.
Snooty and the young manatees immediately began swimming together, and Snooty could be seen placing his flipper on one of the new guests.
Manatees are very social animals, but have poor eyesight, and much of their interaction is by touch, Murphy said.
Brynne Anne Besio, executive director of South Florida Museum, said manatees can easily eat more than 100 pounds of vegetation a day.
Crystal and Scott Buchanan of Auburn, Maine, were touring downtown Bradenton on Segways when they rolled up to witness the manatees being hoisted into the aquarium.
Fascinated by the rare sight, Crystal Buchanan, when asked if she expected to see anything like that, said, “Absolutely not.”
Sally Senger, a manatee specialist, said this is believed to be only the second time that a trio of manatees have been introduced to the aquarium at the same time. They are the 17th, 18th and 19th manatees that Snooty has shared space with over the years.
Southwest Florida is thought to be home to one-third to one-half of the state’s manatee population, and they can be found in the Manatee and Braden rivers.
Anyone who would like to contribute to the upkeep of the manatees may visit www.southfloridamuseum.org/ or call (941) 746-4131.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.