The Manatee Rehabilitation Program
The Museum’s work with manatees began in 1949 when a young manatee eventually nicknamed “Baby Snoots” arrived in Bradenton for the Desoto celebration. Little was known then about these unique creatures that inhabit Florida’s coastal waters. As he matured, Baby Snoots became known as Snooty. In 2015, Snooty was certified by Guinness World Records as the oldest manatee in human care at the age of 67. His personality and charm gave face to the plight of manatees and his participation in numerous scientific studies over the years brought insight into many aspects of manatee life not otherwise available. A true ambassador for sirenians, Snooty lived to be 69 years old.
Snooty was the catalyst for the Museum to join the manatee rehabilitation program in 1998 and to become a founding member of the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) in 2001. At that time, staff in the Parker Manatee Rehabilitation Habitat began taking an active role in the second stage of manatee rehabilitation — after the animals’ critical care needs have been addressed at manatee hospitals, we help manatees meet the milestones necessary for them to return to the wild.
The MRP is a self-governing group originally created by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is made up of organizations that participate in manatee rescue, rehabilitation, biology and field study (research). The Museum is a Second Stage Manatee Rehabilitation Facility. The first stage includes rescue and critical care at one of the state’s four hospitals where they receive life-saving treatment. The second stage involves the transfer of recovering manatees, generally juveniles but also sometimes adults who no longer need medical treatment. At this point they require weight gain and exposure to natural food and feeding strategies to prepare them for their return to the wild. Second stage facilities play a vital role in maintaining space for new manatee patients in the hospitals.
Typically, these animals remain in our care anywhere from a few months to more than a year, depending on their age and cause of rescue. Each manatee in our care eats an estimated 10-15 percent of their body weight in food each day — romaine and iceberg lettuce, endive and escarole, as well as water hyacinth, hydrilla and seagrass collected in the wild by our staff.
The Museum has housed 45 rehabilitating manatees since 1998: Newton, Mo, Palma Sola, Desoto Park, Salvador, Angelito, Fort Myers Baby, Passe Grille Baby, Whitaker, Muddy Barron, Snitch, Little Coral, Baby Coral, Baby Sister, Little Nap, Coral Lee, Bolee, Cayman, Teco 2, Dese, Brandee, UPC, Charlie, Epac, Longo, Cheeno, Ace, Myakklemore, Icecube, Sarasolo, Randall, Gale, Lagoona, Baca, Tannebaum, ONeil, Slate, Obsidian, Collie, Felicia, Doscal, Viva, Janus, Iclyn and Aria. Manatees can weigh anywhere from 400 to 800 pounds while we care for them.
The Florida manatee has been reclassified from endangered to threatened, but is still at risk from both natural and human causes of injury and mortality. Exposure to red tide and cold stress are natural problems that can affect manatees. Human-related threats include boat strikes, crushing by floodgates or locks, entanglement in monofilament and crab trap line or ingestion of fishing gear and plastic bags. If you see an injured manatee, you can help by calling the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hotline at 1-888-404-3922 or by dialing *FWC on a cellular device.