Two manatees used Wednesday — Manatee Appreciation Day — to explore their new home at the South Florida Museum.
Tannebaum and O’Neil became the 34th and 35th manatees to be treated at the aquarium when they arrived on Tuesday. The manatees have spent much of their time side-by-side, eating romaine lettuce and navigating the aquarium.
Tannebaum is a 730-pound, 8-foot-long manatee that was rescued in January. A line wrapped around his tail and trapped him for several days in Fort Myers, near the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River.
“The rope that entangled on there almost took his tail off,” said Virginia Edmonds, the museum's aquarium director. “He was lucky that he was found.”
Tannebaum is joined by O’Neil, an orphan who grew from 30 pounds to 565 pounds after being rescued and taken to SeaWorld.
The Parker Manatee Rehabilitation Aquarium is again open to the public after being buffed, sealed and painted. Maintenance of the 60,000-gallon tank also included deck and fiberglass work.
"We completed the maintenance work right on schedule and now — with the window newly buffed and sealed — underwater views of the manatees are better than ever," Edmonds said in a news release.
Manatees usually arrive to the aquarium after receiving critical care elsewhere. Then, they heal and gain needed weight at the museum, a process that can take several months or more than a year.
“We want you to go out at about 600 or 700 pounds, somewhere in that range, because that puts them at about 2 years old,” Edmonds said. “It also allows them to go out and have a cushion of weight because, going out and adjusting, they’re usually naive and naive to the wild.”
A third manatee joined Tannebaum and O’Neil on Wednesday.
Baca, a young manatee who was rescued from the Cocoa Beach area after suffering from cold stress in 2017, is a familiar face at the aquarium.
He joined the museum in May 2017 before maintenance work forced him to temporarily leave the museum and continue his recovery at SeaWorld in February 2018. Baca was a tank-mate to Snooty, who grew to be the oldest captive manatee before his tragic death on July 23, 2017. It happened two days after Snooty’s 69th birthday.
Snooty had followed Baca and Randall, another tank-mate, into a confined area that opened after a bolted panel became loose. Snooty, the largest of the three manatees, drowned after he became stuck.
Marilyn Margold, the aquarium director at the time, left the museum after an outside review determined Snooty’s death could have been prevented.
Snooty likely inspired thousands through the aquarium exhibit. The museum said a $250,000 grant from Florida Fish and Wildlife is helping to improve the exhibit and continue a 20-year history of rehabilitation and community education.
More than 40 people attended a question-and-answer session at the aquarium on Wednesday afternoon.
Kelly and Matt Baranko were thrilled to see the manatees with their two children, ages 5 and 7. The family had lunch at Pier 22 and then noticed advertisements for a manatee aquarium at the nearby museum.
“I learned a lot about the conservation of them, and it’s really nice to see the amount of effort put into helping them, you know, because I guess boat traffic and some other issues are really putting a damper on the manatee population,” Matt Baranko said, adding:
“How can you not see manatees on Manatee Appreciation Day?”
Giuseppe Sabella: 941-745-70972, @Gsabella