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South Florida Museum Mourns the Death of Snooty, the World’s Oldest-Known Manatee

July 23, 2017

Snooty, the world’s oldest-known manatee, has died at age 69, officials with the South Florida Museum announced today. Snooty’s death was the result of a tragic accident and the circumstances are being reviewed.

“Our initial findings indicate that Snooty’s death was a heartbreaking accident and we’re all devastated about his passing,” said Brynne Anne Besio, the Museum’s CEO. “We’re reviewing what happened and will be conducting a full review of the circumstances. Snooty was such a unique animal and he had so much personality that people couldn’t help but be drawn to him. As you can imagine, I — and our staff, volunteers and board members — considered him a star. We all deeply mourn his passing. We are honored to have had him with us for so long and will continue his legacy through our manatee rehabilitation program.”

Snooty was found in an underwater area only used to access plumbing for the exhibit. Early indications are that a panel that is kept bolted shut had somehow been dislodged and that Snooty was able to swim in. The other three manatees undergoing rehabilitation in Snooty’s habitat — Randall, Baca and Gale — are all fine.

Snooty’s habitat undergoes a daily visual inspection and there were no indications the previous day that there was anything amiss. The Aquarium will remain closed while Museum staff continues its investigation and staff who worked with him have an opportunity to grieve.

“Baby Snoots” at the time of hist transfer to the South Florida Museum in 1949.

Snooty was born on July 21, 1948, at the Miami Aquarium and Tackle Company — the first recorded birth of a manatee in human care. He moved to Bradenton in 1949. “Baby Snoots,” as he was then known, was brought to Bradenton as part of the 1949 Desoto Celebration and later that year he moved permanently to the South Florida Museum’s care. In 1979, he became Manatee County’s official mascot. During his lifetime, he greeted more than a million visitors.

A necropsy, or animal autopsy, will be performed at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory in St. Petersburg.

Throughout his life, Snooty contributed much to our understanding of manatees — not only did he participate in scientific research programs designed to help understand things like manatee hearing and vocalization, he also hosted other manatees that were being rehabilitated for return to the wild as part of the Manatee Rehabilitation Network.

We ask Snooty’s many fans to share their personal memories of Snooty on Facebook at  www.facebook.com/SouthFLMuseum.

Update – July 24, 2017:

Museum staff and the community are mourning the loss of the beloved Snooty, who died Sunday, July 23. On Monday, July 24, South Florida Museum staff provided updated information on the circumstances of his death.

“There has been a tremendous outpouring of support from our local community and from people all over the country and world who loved and cared for Snooty throughout his life just as much as we have, and I want to thank you all for your kind thoughts and words — they mean so much to us at this time,” said Museum Provost & Chief Operating Officer Jeff Rodgers. “We are heartbroken by Snooty’s death and no one wants to understand what happened more than we do.

“Our own initial fact-finding shows that Snooty’s death was a tragic accident.”

Snooty’s 60,000-gallon habitat includes a 4-foot ledge around part of it, which was designed to provide a shallow water area so that Snooty — who grew up in a shallow pool — would be comfortable in his bigger habitat which was opened in 1993. At the bottom of this ledge is a 30-inch by 30-inch panel, which allows staff to access plumbing for the exhibit, if needed.

Passage into this underwater plumbing area is through an access panel — not a door — that was designed to be secured in all four corners. The panel has not been opened to access the plumbing pipes in the past five years and divers inspect it daily to confirm that it is secure. There were no signs of problems with the panel during the staff’s previous morning’s cleaning and maintenance dive or throughout the rest of the day.

While the Museum is working to piece together what happened and how, we know that, after the Museum closed for the evening, the access panel somehow became dislodged, allowing Snooty and the three rehabilitation manatees access to this narrow space under the ledge.

While the smaller, 500-600 pound animals were able to turn around and swim out, Snooty was just too large for that to happen. A necropsy conducted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Pathobiology Laboratory in St. Petersburg confirmed that he drowned.

We have since re-secured the access panel and divers were again in the water today to confirm that the space is safe for rehab manatees Randall, Gale and Baca.

The Museum is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to house manatees and our exhibit and facilities are inspected annually. Our most recent inspection was conducted on June 5, 2017, and we were citation-free — everything was found to be in proper working order.

The Museum’s Aquarium has a track record of successful manatee care since Snooty arrived in 1949. And, since this habitat opened in 1993, there have been no manatee safety issues with this plumbing access panel.

Snooty with his handler Marjorie Leigh in 1958.

“We have cared for Snooty since he was 11 months old and his health and safety has always been of the utmost importance to all of us here,” said Brynne Anne Besio, Museum CEO. “We have also successfully rehabilitated 30 manatees and continue to watch closely over the three manatees currently in our care.

“We are heartsick about Snooty’s death and want his legacy to continue through our manatee rehabilitation program and through all of our education and outreach programs.”

On Tuesday, July 25, the South Florida Museum resumed its regular schedule, with the galleries, Planetarium and Aquarium all open.

Museum staff will continue to plan for an appropriate and fitting memorial to Snooty that will pay tribute to his life and allow the community to grieve with us, even as we honor all that he has helped to accomplish for manatee science and conservation — not just here in our local community, but throughout the world. We will share those details with the community as they evolve.

 

Update – July 28, 2017

The South Florida Museum announced today that it has launched a living memorial to capture memories of the Snooty, the beloved manatee who passed away last week.  The memorial can be found at www.SouthFloridaMuseum.org/Remembering-Snooty. Photos and memories shared to this page will be assembled at a later date to document the unprecedented love that people around the world felt for this special animal. Photos and memories of Snooty can also be shared on the Museum’s Facebook page.

“There here has been an overwhelming outpouring of grief and mourning at the loss of Snooty, who was beloved around the world,” said Museum CEO Brynne Anne Besio. “The Museum staff and Board of Trustees share in this grief, as well as in the desire to cherish the memories of this special creature.”

Museum staff continues to plan for an appropriate and fitting public celebration of Snooty’s remarkable life that will pay tribute to his legacy. Plans for this celebration will be announced at a later date.

 

Update – July 28, 2017

Officials at the South Florida Museum have taken swift action to ensure the safety of the three manatees in their care and to carefully and thoroughly examine all details related to the accidental death on Saturday night of its famous manatee, Snooty.

“No one wants to understand what happened more than we do,” said Museum Provost & COO Jeff Rodgers, adding that the Museum staff and Board of Trustees are committed to examining all information as part of its review of the circumstances of Snooty’s accidental death.

The Museum has invited outside experts to assist in the review process, and is cooperating fully with all regulatory agencies that have interest in the incident, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) which inspects Manatee Aquarium.

Third-Party Review

In addition to its own study and assessment, the Museum has initiated a third-party review process to look at the Aquarium’s procedures, protocols and facility. The team will include leading experts in the field of manatee care.

The Museum asked leadership of the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) — which is a cooperative group of nonprofit, private, state, and federal entities which works together for the rescue, rehabilitation and release of wild manatees (including the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) – for a recommendation for the process of the review.

Actions Taken

After discovering a panel had been dislodged that contributed to Snooty’s death, Museum staff worked quickly to secure and reinforce the manatee enclosure’s access panel to ensure that it cannot be dislodged again. Three manatees continue to live at the Aquarium while being rehabilitated before release.

The panel area is now reinforced with three ½-inch high density PVC supports, including one in the middle, barring entry through the opening. The panel, which was originally designed with one stainless steel screw at each corner, has now been secured with 10 stainless steel screws.

The Museum will share information about this process and findings as it becomes available.