Retirees assemble complex manatee skeletons

Posted at 6:26 AM, Dec 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-29 18:48:07-05

It's like a jig saw puzzle -- but with manatee bones!

Two Treasure Coast retirees spend months working with the giant skeletons in an effort to protect our area’s most majestic creatures.

In a laboratory in the back of Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, longtime friends Bill Stewart and Nat Huggins have a very unique hobby.

“It is different because most people down here, if you are not volunteering, you play golf or bridge. I don't do either,” said Huggins.

In their retirement, the men put together manatee skeletons.

“I just like to work with my hands and be creative. This is creation,” said Huggins. 

“I can say I've learned patience on this project,” said Stewart.

Each manatee has 247 bones, and it takes them two months to put together each one.

It takes lots of drilling and gluing.

“The real problem is each one of these ribs weighs about two and a half pounds, very dense. We've gone through, I don't know how many drill bits just drilling into them,” said Huggins.

This manatee and baby manatee skeletons will go on display at the new Florida Power and Light manatee viewing center.

It's the men’s way of making sure people understand and respect the sea cows.

“This animal right here, you can see it’s been hit by a boat. Its bones have been cracked and reformed, said Stewart.

“It is very rewarding. A great deal of satisfaction because we have accomplished something. I don't think there are too many people down here who assemble manatee skeletons,” said Huggins.