On Sunday, officials from the South Florida Museum in Bradenton announced tragic news: Snooty, the world’s oldest-living manatee, died due to an accident in the museum’s Parker Manatee Aquarium, reports Richard Dymond at The Miami Herald. He was 69.
Born July 21, 1948, at the Miami Aquarium and Tackle Company, Snooty was the first known Florida manatee birthed in captivity, according to a press release. He was dubbed “Baby Snoots” after his birth. In 1949 he transferred to the South Florida Museum where he stayed the rest of his life, greeting over 1 million visitors as the star attraction of the manatee aquarium. He was anointed the official mascot for Manatee County in 1979.
As Dymond reports, Snooty was found in a section of the aquarium that houses the plumbing and life support systems that is usually off-limits to the animals. It appears that an access panel that is normally bolted closed came loose and Snooty squeezed his way into the compartment. While the younger, slimmer manatees in the aquarium were able to swim in and out of the hatch, as Bill Chappel at NPR reports, 1,300 pound Snooty likely pushed himself through the access panel and was unable to turn around. When he couldn't surface for air, he eventually drowned.
A necropsy will be performed at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory in St. Petersburg to confirm the cause of death. Museum officials say they will eventually hold a public celebration of Snooty’s life. Since the announcement, mourners have left flowers and heads of lettuce on the steps of the museum in tribute.
“Snooty was the most iconic citizen in Bradenton,” Mayor Wayne Poston tells Dymond. “It’s awful, horrible, heartbreaking. I am trying to get over the shock. We will have a lot of conversations about how to honor him. But we can’t replace him. We can never replace him. Manatees are not the most handsome of creatures, but he was beautiful.”
According to Chappel, Snooty was the Museum’s only resident manatee. The other three manatees currently in the aquarium are part of a rehabilitation program that rescues the injured sea cows and eventually returns them to the wild. The museum says it is not sure if it will have another resident manatee.
In the 1970s, the Florida manatee was down to just a few hundred individuals and was one of the first animals added to the Endangered Species List. Since then, the population has increased to over 6,000 animals, enough that it was downgraded from “endangered” status to “threatened” in April. And while that’s good news, the animals still face threats including diminishing water quality, rising water temperatures due to climate change and boat strikes. In fact, last year was the third worst for manatees on record with 520 dead sea cows found around Florida, reports the Associated Press. At least 104 were killed by boat strikes and an additional 13 were injured by boats and sent to rehabilitation facilities like the South Florida Museum.