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South Florida Museum to the rescue? New bill would improve manatee rehab efforts

Two manatees arrive at South Florida Museum

Two rescued manatees have a new home at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton. Tannebaum and O’Neil became the 34th and 35th manatees to be treated at the aquarium when they arrived on Tuesday, March 27, 2018.
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Two rescued manatees have a new home at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton. Tannebaum and O’Neil became the 34th and 35th manatees to be treated at the aquarium when they arrived on Tuesday, March 27, 2018.

Legislation working its way through Tallahassee won’t bring back Snooty, but it should help the South Florida Museum provide better rehabilitation services for his fellow manatees.

State Rep. Will Robinson, R-Bradenton, and Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, have filed identical appropriation requests that museum officials say would improve the level of service they can provide rescued manatees. Lawmakers are asking for more than $400,000 toward a new mammal rescue vehicle, a new ceiling in the Parker Manatee Aquarium and a generator to power the tank in the event of a power outage.

“We’ve asked the state to help us fund some parts of our infrastructure to be able to continue what we do,” said South Florida Museum CEO Brynne Anne Besio. “That’s why the bill is there, so that we’ll keep going with modernization and what’s best for the animals.”

The upgrades themselves are meant to bolster a statewide program that the museum began in 1998, thanks to a little inspiration from the late Snooty, who was known for taking fellow manatees under his wing. The museum is a founding member of the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP).

Since then, 36 manatees have been treated at the South Florida Museum, and the bill hopes to keep pushing that number higher. Besio said the museum is expecting to welcome two more in the coming weeks.

“There’s always a need to rehab manatees,” Besio said.

There are five acute care facilities associated with the MRP, including Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park and SeaWorld Orlando, that provide life-saving services for wildlife rescues. Secondary facilities like the South Florida Museum assist in that process by giving animals a short-term home to recover in before releasing them back into the wild.

Most recently, the museum released a manatee named Baca that was rehabbed for more than a year, gaining nearly 400 pounds within that time frame.

“Our guests love knowing that we’re part of a program taking care of animals to be released in the wild,” said Besio. “They need help and we’re getting them back out.”

In the future, the museum hopes to also play a bigger role in animal rescue with funding for a “made-to-order” vehicle that can properly support manatees, dolphins or other animals that are reported in distress.

“There’s a need for a vehicle that’s specifically outfitted to support a large animal with climate control and health assessment equipment. We think we can be an important location for the entire MRP and we have staff that can help with rescues and releases.”

Another piece of the funding request is the addition of natural light to the museum’s 60,000 square-foot aquarium. The renovation would replace roofing that is 26 years old and fulfill a recommendation from the United States Department of Agriculture.

“They’re always looking at how to take better care of these animals,” Besio explained. “We have windows that give some light, but they do recommend natural light from outside, so when they’re in captivity, they know the regular day and night cycle and it’s not a shock when they’re back in the wild.”

The final item on the wish list is a new generator that can sustain life support operations for the aquarium like filtration, water cooling and food preservation. The bill is set to be considered by the House Appropriations Committee at a later date.

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