Manatee museum display

A life-size display of bones from a manatee is on display in the Old Historic Courthouse's museum exhibit that features one of Citrus County's most unique creatures, the manatee.

Manatees migrated a little further inland this year to take refuge inside Citrus County’s historic courthouse. This fascinating event, known as “Manatee Mania,” is on public display free at the Old Courthouse Heritage Museum, located at 1 Courthouse Square in Inverness, until it’s taken down at the end of April.

Kathy Turner-Thompson, the county’s historical resource manager, said it was inevitable for the Citrus County Historical Society to showcase the manatee, which was been responsible for the creation of the mermaid, food for people during the Great Depression, numerous protection laws and tourism booms.

“They’re the hook that gets people here, they play a unique role not only in our past history but our current history and history we’re making everyday,” Turner-Thompson said. “They’re the state mammal for gosh sakes.”

With a $5,000 grant from the Florida Humanities Council, the historical society put up several educational panels to make up the exhibit that illustrates humankind’s relationship with the manatee, dating back to the Seminole Tribe.

“Manatees are really an important part of our history, our natural history,” said Turner-Thompson said. “Hopefully, they’re here to stay as long as we are.”

Guests can learn how the progressive shutdown of coastal power plants impact manatee deaths from cold-water stress, and how down-listing the marine mammal could do more harm.

The exhibit shows how musician Jimmy Buffet and former Florida Governor Bob Graham formed the Save the Manatee Club in 1981, which was just one of many examples of how communities have stood up for the marine mammal.

“It’s really people and people’s love for manatees, and even the tour guide operators, who have a vested interest that manatees are not harassed,” Turner-Thompson said.

In addition to educating people about the manatee’s significance, Turner-Thompson said she hopes the exhibit teaches viewers about their own importance when it comes to making sure the creature survives in the long run.

“It’s really man who are their best hope,” she said. “(Manatees) have played a long role in our history. Hopefully, that’ll continue and that’s what I hope people see, too.”

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Contact Chronicle reporter Buster Thompson at 352-564-2916 or bthompson@chronicleonline.com.

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