It's good to be Snooty.
No, we're not talking about an attitude. This Snooty is the oldest manatee in captivity and the star attraction of the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, about three hours south of Orlando. Visitors can explore history, science and the environment at this family-family spot that's been a downtown fixture since 1947.
At age 66, Snooty is an ambassador for more than the museum. He's the official mascot of Manatee County, a public relations icon whose image has graced the front of area phone books and the sides of local buses. Fans can watch him live on Snooty Cam, a feature of southfloridamuseum.org.
He's a member of AARP, though it's not clear where he carries his card.
Snooty is an active senior, no matter how relaxed he looks paddling idly in the tank he shares with rescued manatees Ace and Myakklemore in the Parker Manatee Aquarium at the South Florida Museum.
In 1998, the aquarium was designated a second-stage manatee rehabilitation center to care for sea cows injured by boat propellers or other dangers caused by human interaction. The three manatees eat almost 75,000 pounds of romaine lettuce and vegetables annually, but not in the same way.
Born in captivity in 1948 at the Miami Aquarium, Snooty was hand-fed as a baby, a habit that continues in his golden years. Trainers make sure to feed him separately so that Ace and Myakklemore don't expect the same treatment, a routine that won't help them return to the wild.
Although Snooty monopolizes most of the publicity, including an assortment of cute T-shirts and caps in the gift shop, there's more to see at the museum. The Bishop Planetarium offers three shows daily, including the kid-friendly "Perfect Little Planet" about an unusual family searching the universe for a beach getaway.
History exhibits range from cases of fossils to examples of local advances in medicine, business and architecture. In the courtyard, replicas of a 16th century Spanish home and chapel stand in the shadow of a statue of explorer Hernando de Soto.
From the museum, it's a short walk to the taverns and restaurants on Old Main Street. Try the Shillelagh, a fine club sandwich at O'Bricks Irish Pub & Martini Bar (obricks.com). It's hard to beat.