BRADENTON, Fla. Manatee County fell into a state of mourning Sunday after the South Florida Museum announced that Snooty the manatee, who celebrated his 69th birthday during a splendid bash Saturday, had died as a result of an accident.
Snooty was found before the Parker Aquarium was opened to the public Sunday in an underwater area only used to access plumbing for the exhibit life support system, according to a statement from Brynne Anne Besio, the museum’s chief executive officer.
The museum said Snooty’s death was the result of a “tragic accident and the circumstances are being investigated.”
Early indications are that an access panel door that is normally bolted shut had somehow been knocked loose and that Snooty was able to swim in, Besio said.
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Randall, Baca and Gale, the other three manatees undergoing rehabilitation in Snooty’s habitat, are all fine, Besio added.
Snooty had previously been in good health, eating about 80 pounds of lettuce and vegetables every day to sustain his 1,000-pound body, according to The Associated Press. He loved to greet his visitors and ham it up for the cameras. On Saturday, he devoured a tiered fruit and vegetable cake as thousands of guests attended his birthday bash.
The museum said Snooty was born in 1948 at the Miami Aquarium and Tackle Company, calling it the first recorded birth of a manatee in human care. He moved to Bradenton in 1949, greeting more than a million visitors in his lifetime, The AP reported.
Thousands of people shared the news of Snooty’s death on social media around 1 p.m. Sunday, perhaps the greatest instantaneous transfer of information on one subject at one time in Manatee County’s history.
But some found out the same way Del Hopewell and his family did, by coming to the museum Sunday with a small child in tow in order to visit the Parker Aquarium where Snooty had not only earned the title of world’s oldest manatee in captivity but where he had won the hearts of generations of Manatee residents and visitors by his antics and personality.
Unlike any other manatee, Snooty could raise himself up out of the water and place his upper body on the edge of his tank, where he enjoyed basking in the attention of his human helpers, who fed him lettuce by the truckload.
Snooty did his tricks Saturday, during his final birthday party, when he one-upped his own mascot, Sarasota teenager Foster Swartz, by making little trumpeting sounds while Swartz wasn’t allowed to talk at all. Snooty’s actual birthday was Friday.
“He is the symbol of Manatee County,” Hopewell said.
Hopewell’s daughter, Jessica Wheeler, with her daughter, Snooty fan Adalie, age 3, said she was stunned.
“When you think of Bradenton, you think of Snooty,” Wheeler said.
Adalie clutched a little gray Snooty stuffed toy under her right arm and buried her head against her mom’s arm. Wheeler had just explained to her that Snooty had died.
Martha Wells, a museum staff person, said that she and other staff members were in grief. Besio described the staff’s mood as “devastated.”
“We’ve lost a family member,” Wells said.
Besio said the museum will be conducting a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death.
“Snooty was such a unique animal and he had so much personality that people couldn’t help but be drawn to him,” Besio said. “As you can imagine, I, and our staff, volunteers and board members, considered him a star. We will deeply mourn his passing.”
Snooty was born July 21, 1948, at the Miami Aquarium and Tackle Company, the first recorded birth of a manatee in human care.