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Snooty the manatee celebrates 65th birthday

BRADENTON, Fla. – Snooty the manatee was born when Harry S. Truman was president, Columbia records had just released its 33 1/3 LP format, and people were still talking about how the NBC television network had broadcast Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in its entirety.

Life in America, of course, has changed.

But Snooty is still around, entertaining visitors, munching on lettuce and swimming silently in his tank at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton.

Sunday is his 65th birthday, and to mark the occasion the museum will host a free party Saturday.

He’s the oldest manatee in captivity and possibly one of the oldest ever, experts say.

“If you lived in a pool where people gave you a bath and fed you lettuce by hand and you had no other predators and the water was always a nice warm temperature, you’d be living long too,” said Brynne Anne Besio, executive director of the South Florida Museum. “He’s protected, he’s safe, he has a great diet, he has regular medical care, and so he’s got all the odds for him in terms of living long.”

Snooty, who is in good health, eats about 80 pounds of lettuce and vegetables every day to sustain his 1,000 pound body. He shares a tank with two smaller manatees that are being rehabilitated for cold stress. And lately, he appears thrilled to greet his visitors from the media.

“He loves cameras,” said Marilyn Margold, the museum’s aquarium director. Indeed, on a recent day, Snooty glided from his deep tank to a shallow medical tank and hoisted his torso above the water so he could sling a flipper onto the edge of the pool. When he spotted a video camera, he slowly inched forward toward its lens.

Snooty has been invaluable over the decades for education and conservation purposes, said Robert Bonde, a research biologist and manatee expert for the United States Geological Survey in Gainesville.

“Every year we celebrate a birthday for Snooty, it sets a new records as far as the aging potential for manatees,” he said.

Bonde said that among the wild manatee carcasses found in Florida, research showed the oldest was 53 – yet the average manatee only lives to be about 13 due to man-made threats and environmental stressors, such as cold weather.

Although Snooty is the longest lived manatee in captivity, it’s entirely possible that they could live just as long in the wild if they didn’t face threats like boat propellers, said Bonde.

“It’s tough to be a manatee in Florida,” he said.

Manatees are evolutionary relatives of both elephants and dugongs (a manatee-like creature that lives mostly in waters near Australia). Both of those are long lived, said Bonde, so it makes sense that manatees would be as well.

Over the years, some have claimed that Snooty has been replaced by younger manatees. Museum officials laugh at the tales.

“That was a popular thing to do years ago: if you lose one marine mammal, you’d get another one and just give it the same name,” said Margold. “In our particular case, it’s not true. Snooty has two scars on his side from some abscesses that were removed over 30 years ago, and that’s a real strong identification. Also he has a very predominant tail. And those two things are giveaways that it’s the same Snooty.”

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