BRADENTON – The largest natural and cultural history museum on Florida’s Gulf Coast, the South Florida Museum in downtown Bradenton has been a cultural treasure of Manatee County since 1948. Though it's best known locally for its iconic mascot Snooty the Manatee – who also turns 65 this year – the museum has a wide array of exhibits and events that add to the cultural fabric of Manatee County. This year, the museum has plenty of special events as it looks back on 65 years, including a fashion show this Monday and the return of Film Fridays on March 8.
The museum, which showcases history, paleontology and archeology, features exhibits on fossil evidence of Florida’s earliest marine and mammal inhabitants and archaeological material representing paleoindian, archaic and pre-contact cultures. Exhibits in the Environmental Wing are designed to educate all visitors as to Florida’s environment in a past-present-future format. The message of the three exhibits – Riverine, Pine Uplands and Estuary – focus on environmental awareness of our region's unique biodiversity.
In addition to its museum, the facility also boasts an in-house planetarium and research aquarium. The Bishop Planetarium is a multipurpose, all-digital domed theater, housing one of the most advanced projection systems in the world. Incorporating unidirectional stadium style seating and a digital 25,000 watt Dolby 5.1 surround sound system, it is a remarkable astronomy education resource that allows visitors to explore their universe through traditional live star talks and immersive virtual journeys to the far reaches of the stars. With shows like Extreme Planets and Ultimate Universe, guests can get up close and personal with the cosmos without ever leaving Bradenton.
In celebration of its anniversary, the Museum is showing Bradenton’s Wunderkammer for 65 weeks, as a way to help celebrate their years of providing education, while also preserving the scientific and cultural knowledge of Florida, the world and our universe. Each week since October 31, they have been highlighting a collection objects and the explorer who originally collected the item.
The word Wunderkammer translates into “wonder room,” and is a nod to the earliest form of museums. These were rooms, or sometimes cabinets (cabinets of curiosities), which attempted to showcase the world in a microcosm. Popularized in Europe in the 16th and 17th century boom of exploration and discovery, these rooms were filled with objects that told the story of the world. From a replica of the White House's Lincoln Bed to a mammoth tooth fossil, the museum's Wunderkammer is a worthy tribute.
The Parker Manatee Aquarium is designed to house three adult manatees. It holds nearly 60,000 gallons of water, including a medical pool that offers both deep and shallow water, allowing the manatees to maintain natural feeding behaviors. An exhibit area within the facility helps to educate the public about manatee anatomy and offers above and below water viewing. Manatee Care Specialists provide presentations to museum guests about manatee habitat, nutrition and physiology.
Working closely with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and critical care hospitals, the aquarium is a second stage rehabilitation facility, providing a temporary home for manatees who will be released back into the wild after they receive treatment from an acute care hospital. It has housed 24 manatees as part of the rehabilitation program and is of course the permanent home to Manatee County's most famous resident and the oldest known manatee in the world, Snooty.
The facility has already released several Manatees this year. Charlie, released February 4 at Homosassa Springs, was rescued in November of 2010 as a young calf with his mother, who had been hit by a boat. His mother did not survive, so Charlie was bottle fed and taught to eat whole food at the Miami Seaquarium’s manatee hospital.
Snooty and friends
photo: wikimedia commons
“He came to the Museum in May of 2011 weighing only 400 pounds,” according to Marilyn Margold, the Museum’s Director of Living Collections. “He grew to a healthy 700 pounds and 8 feet in length to be ready for release.”
Epac, who was rescued in January of 2011 from Matlacha Pass near Cape Coral suffering from cold stress, was released on Jan. 23.
“We like to release manatees back to the area where they came from, if possible, but Epac’s home habitat has been affected by red tide so the decision was made to release him at the southern-most warm water area free of red tide, which was Apollo Beach/ TECO,” Margold said. “He has been traveling along the Coast, close to shore, and he is being monitored closely.”
Epac had been at the South Florida Museum since March of 2012 and grew steadily during his stay to a weight of 820 lbs. and length of 8 feet, 4 inches long.
Both manatees are fitted with GPS tags so that biologists can monitor their movements and track them closely. The tag is housed in a float that is specially color coded for each manatee, so the biologists can immediately identify which manatee they are seeing. Additionally, the tracking gear is fitted with “weak links” that break apart to prevent any kind of entanglement.
The South Florida Museum also has other events, such as the popular Film Fridays series, which returns March 8 with The Lady from Shanghai, starring Rita Hayworth and Orson Wells. You can see classic films for only $5 and there's even a wide selection of beer, wine, soft drinks and snacks available for purchase.
Couture in the Courtyard will take place on Monday, March 4 in the Museum's beautiful Spanish courtyard. Guests can enjoy a glass of champagne as they mingle and explore the fabulous raffle baskets beginning at 11 a.m. Lunch by Michael's on East will be served at noon, and the day will be topped off with the highly-anticipated fashion show by Saks Fifth Avenue. Plan to stay all afternoon this and shop at an exclusive on-property Saks Fifth Avenue boutique. Tickets are $90.
In July, the museum gears up for their annual Birthday Bash for Snooty (7/20). The all-day event incorporates all kinds of special events inside the museum, as well as on the outer grounds where free kids activities are held. The South Florida Museum is located at 201 10th St. West in downtown Bradenton, next to City Hall and the Twin Dolphin Marina.
Current hours are Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays noon to 5 p.m. Tickets are $15.95 for adults, $13.95 for seniors, $11.95 for children 4-12, while children 3 and under are free. There are also special family night promotions. If it's been a while, get over to the South Florida Museum and see what's new. If you've never been, what are you waiting for? Check out one of the best cultural attractions in Florida, right in your own backyard.
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