Thousands of people, old and young, filled the South Florida Museum's outdoor Spanish Plaza on Saturday to celebrate Snooty's 64th birthday. For many Snooty's birthday has become a lifelong tradition.
Anna Maria Island resident, Cheryl Lycans brought her grand daughter, Olivia Leach, to celebrate Snooty's big day.
"I used to bring her mother and her twin sister when they were kids, it is like a tradition," Lycans said.
The highlight for Snooty was listening to everyone serenade him as his birthday "cake" was delivered. The special treat is made up of his favorite foods, including a few strawberries with a dash of pineapple juice to sweeten it all up. It was both beautiful and tasty — at least to Snooty who gobbled it right up.
Executive Director of the museum, Brynne Besio was thrilled with the number of people at this years event.
"It is just fabulous, such great community turn out to help Snooty celebrate his birthday. We are on to another great year ahead," Besio said, "we are so happy to have everyone here."
The wildlife festival and birthday bash for Manatee County's beloved unofficial mascot, also served as a fundraiser to help the Museum continue to provide food and care for Snooty as well as other manatees who come to the aquarium through the Manatee Rehabilitation Partnership.
Snooty currently has two tank mates — Charlie and Epac – who shared in the celebration. Charlie has been undergoing rehabilitation since his mother was killed in a boating accident in November 2010.
The aquarium continues to raise funds to help care for the manatees. Last year donations paid half of the $75,000 cost of lettuce. Saturday's event is one more way people who care about Snooty and his friends can show their support.
Snooty, who is strictly vegetarian, eats about 85 pounds of food daily, including 70 pounds of romaine lettuce, 15 pounds of vegetables that are packed with vitamins, including a mix of cabbage, carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes and kale. Of course Snooty has a bit of a sweet tooth and gets an apple a day, they say, to keep the doctor away.
"Our main thing is to rehabilitate manatees and keep them healthy and make sure we are educating the public about what we do and how it assists in the overall salvation of the manatee," Emmalee Legler, Communications Manager for the museum said, "Snooty is an incredible ambassador for his species for people to be educated about manatees."
Two dozen manatees have come to live by Snooty's side since 1998 and all have been successfully returned to the wild following their "fattening up" period at Parker Aquarium. Once they are released manatees are monitored for a year to make sure they are able to feed themselves and stay out of the colder water.
Beyond the birthday boy and his tank mates, the party featured animals and animal handlers from Jungle Gardens and Busch Gardens. Handlers brought an owl, skunk, snakes and an alligator to help make the crowds aware of the wildlife living around them.
In addition to the animal exhibits and great food, guests were invited to try their hand at games and face painting, the balloon animals were also a huge hit with the kids.
The Bradenton Marauder's came out with a Speed Pitch game for visitors to play before their Saturday night baseball game. Douglas Salinas, team pitcher and Carlos Mesa, outfielder, spent the afternoon showing kids how to pitch and giving away prizes.
One of the most popular activities at the event was the Fossil Fun Zone that allowed kids, as well as the young at heart, a chance to dig through what seemed to be a truckload of pebbles and find goodies like sharks teeth and ancient bone fragments. Diana Youmans has come out with the Mosiac group for several years and enjoys watching the children dig through looking for treasures.
"It is a great science, hands on, learning experience that the kids find lots of fun," said Youmans, "hopefully people will come back and enjoy more things at the museum."
Yvonne Gerrish, her mother and sons spent part of the afternoon watching the Garbage-Men perform some Beatles songs on their home made instruments. The trio from Sarasota plays on guitars made from cereal boxes and yard sticks and drums made from a trash can lid and some buckets.
The teenage band members all attend Sarasota's Pine View School and just returned from a trip to Manhattan, where they played in Times Square for CNN. So far the response from fans has been fantastic, you can check them out on facebook.
The aquarium also sponsored a birthday card drawing contest and winners were announced on Saturday at the event.
"It was very difficult to pick winners because all these kids are so talented," Ashley Burke said, "It was a group judging effort."
Overall there were nearly 50 entries and winners received prizes from the museum. Winners were: 5th-6th grade: 1st Stephanie Hawkins, 2nd Bonnie Balwin and 3rd Morgan Russell; 3rd-4th grade: 1st Hailey Kadivar, 2nd Jonah Durst and 3rd Laurel Akers; 1st-2nd grade: 1st Camille Greenwald, 2nd Trevor Brenneman and 3rd Isabela Rose Montalvo and Pre-K- Kindergarten: 1st Isabelle Beyers, 2nd Caitlin Neal and 3rd Rebekah Harold.