Tasteful? No. But it does raise money

Since a spoof Web site linked to Save the Manatee Club, 40 manatees have been adopted.

Published January 9, 2007

CRYSTAL RIVER - Pat Rose was hoping the plight of manatees would get more publicity.

Turns out, it did.

Rose, executive director of the Save the Manatee Club, agreed last month to link the club's Web site to a site dreamed up by late night television's Conan O'Brien.

Since the link was added to O'Brien's hornymanatee.com, Save the Manatee has gotten 24,734 Web hits through that portal. In addition, 40 manatees have been adopted and 200 T-shirts have been sold as a result of the NBC show's site.

Save the Manatee is getting $5 for each shirt.

But it isn't about the money, Rose said Friday. It's about educating people on the problems that manatees face.

Some people, including a batch of volunteers at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, were upset by the club's decision to allow a link from hornymanatee.com.

"They thought it was really porn," Rose said. "We kept getting hit with this question about what we were doing to children. But the bottom line is, no one can find that site through ours."

Save the Manatee is not endorsing hornymanatee.com and the images it contains.

"If you are already on their site then, yes, you can come to us and learn about the real things that are happening to manatees," he said.

The hornymanatee.com site resulted from a skit on Late Night with Conan O'Brien in December. O'Brien made up the name of the site, but then NBC decided to buy the Web address.

There, the network created a photo gallery of the lewd exploits of a manatee, which is actually a person dressed in a bulky manatee suit.

Then, the network invited people to submit their own artwork and videos of the horny manatee. Mentions of the site ran for days on the show.

Rose said he doesn't regret linking to O'Brien's site.

"I think this has really been a positive thing," he said.

Money raised from adoptions and T-shirt sales helps the club's advocacy work. And publicity and education are invaluable to the organization and its mission.

Rose was also thrilled that O'Brien mentioned the club on the air and encouraged viewers to support the club by buying T-shirts.

Rose even sent the talk show host a special gift - the adoption of Howie, a male manatee seen wintering in Blue Spring in Orange City since 1971.

Rose knows Howie well.

In 1984, when he was employed by the state and long before he came to work for the Save the Manatee Club, Rose was photographed with Howie in a well-known shot that ran in National Geographic.

In the shot, Howie is hanging onto Rose.

Apparently the manatee has quite a reputation for enjoying contact with humans. So much so, according to Rose, that the animal's unofficial nickname is "Horny Howie."