It’s been one year since Manatee County felt a deep tug at its heartstrings when the community learned it lost its mascot and one of its most well-known, beloved members — Snooty the manatee.
The oldest manatee in captivity had just celebrated his 69th birthday. It was a day filled with special treats as hundreds of visitors peeked through the glass and into the Parker Aquarium tank at the South Florida Museum to catch a glimpse of the 1,300-pound wonder.
Snooty was born at the Miami Aquarium and Tackle Company on July 21, 1948. In addition to being the oldest manatee in captivity, he held the title of being the first recorded birth of a manatee in human care, Bradenton Herald archives show.
But sometime between July 22 and July 23, 2017, Snooty drowned. He was found in an underwater plumbing access area before the Parker Aquarium opened on July 23. A panel door that should have been bolted shut had been knocked loose, and Snooty was able to get inside and became stuck when he could not turn around.
Three other manatees living with Snooty in the aquarium at the time were able to swim in and out of the panel and were fine. But Snooty, who was 89 inches around, could not maneuver in the 30-by-30 inch entrance. The other manatees weighed about 500 and 600 pounds each, much smaller than the 1,300-pound Snooty.
After learning about the manatee’s death, crowds gathered in front of the museum doors and left cards, flowers and other items at a memorial to pay tribute to Snooty. The museum’s website also features an “In Memorium” page for the famous manatee.
An memorial service was later held at the museum. The community mourned the loss of, to some degree, a family member. Many who have spent their lives in Bradenton grew up visiting Snooty.
“When I first saw the headlines that Snooty had died, my heart sunk. I have been deeply saddened every day since then. Snooty was part of me, a native of Bradenton. I have never known life without him here in my hometown. I cannot imagine the grief of Snooty’s keepers. Know that I grieve with you and carry Snooty and all that he stood for in my heart,” read a comment from Kathy Gutierrez on the museum’s “In Memorium” page.
Shortly after his death, Snooty was featured as an answer in National Public Radio’s weekly game show, “Wait Wait ... Don’t Tell Me!”
He’s been honored locally several times since the tragic incident. The Village of the Arts remembered Snooty during a Day of the Dead celebration and a wall at The Good Liquid Brewing Company in Bradenton features a chalk drawing of Snooty.
Third-party investigators found the museum was at fault, reporting the manatee’s death was “preventable.”
South Florida Museum employees were aware of an issue with the panel a week before Snooty’s death, but did not make repairs, the investigation found.
“Daily dives were abbreviated on three and possibly four days and not done on one day. ... Reporting of repair-related concerns was rarely done via the dive log (or in any written manner) and was largely via informal conversation,” the week before the fatal incident, according to the report.
On July 24, staff reinforced the structure behind the panel that led to the maintenance area where Snooty died, according to the report. PVC suppers were attached to the wall behind the panel and a “middle support” was added in efforts to prevent manatees from swimming through the opening, should the panel dislodge again. The panel itself was secured with 10 stainless steel screws.
Marilyn Margold left her position as Parker Aquarium director and other “staff changes” were made following the investigation’s findings. Museum officials did not say if she was fired or resigned.
Virginia Edmonds was hired in November as the new aquarium director.
The museum continues to rehabilitate sick and injured manatees, like those Snooty often shared his tank with, through work with the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership, according to the museum’s website. In addition, the museum will continue public education programs about manatees.
The life of Snooty
July 21, 1948: Snooty is born on The Prinz Valdemar, a Danish warship that capsized in the Miami harbor in 1926 and later became a floating restaurant and the Miami Aquarium Tackle Company.
1949: ‘Baby Snoots’ comes to Bradenton for the Desoto Celebration.
1966: Snooty moves to the newly constructed South Florida Museum.
1979: Manatee County Commissioners declare Snooty to be the county’s official mascot.
1982: Snooty gains even wider fame when the children’s television show, Captain Kangaroo, films him as part of a documentary on manatees.
1985: A hydrophone placed in Snooty’s tank reveals for the first time the high-pitched squeaks as Snooty’s vocalization.
1987: Snooty begins training to aid researchers trying to determine how well manatees hear at different frequencies.1993: Snooty moves into his newest home, a 60,000-gallon exhibit in the newly constructed Parker Manatee Aquarium.
1998: The Parker Manatee Aquarium joins the Manatee Rehabilitation Network and is introduced to his first tank mate, Newton. During his life, Snooty hosted 33 rehabilitating manatees.
2008: Snooty celebrates his 60th birthday at his annual Birthday Bash and Wildlife Festival. His life history makes him one of the most renowned stewards for endangered species and the environment.
2013: More than 6,000 guests visit the South Florida Museum to celebrate Snooty’s historic 65th birthday. It’s the largest crowd in the museum’s history.
2015: Snooty is officially certified as the world’s oldest captive manatee by Guinness World Records.
July 22, 2017: Snooty enjoys a birthday cake of fruits and vegetables at his 69th birthday celebration.
July 23, 2017: The South Florida Museum announces that Snooty has died in an accident.
Information provided by South Florida Museum