A week before Snooty drowned, South Florida Museum employees were aware of a problem with an underwater panel in his tank leading to a maintenance area where the iconic manatee would eventually enter and die.
As a result, an outside review of Snooty’s drowning in late July concluded the 69-year-old manatee’s death was “preventable.”
South Florida Museum officials said Thursday that some aquarium staff were aware of the loose panel but repairs were never made. Employees knew as early as Sunday, July 16, a week before the 69-year-old Snooty died, there might be a problem.
Museum CEO Brynne Anne Besio apologized, saying a communication breakdown occurred from the time it was reported that the panel was loose and missing screws to no action being taken to repair the panel. Besio said “staff changes have been made,” but she would not elaborate on what those changes were or if anyone has lost their job.
“Out of respect for our employees, we will not be discussing personnel issues,” she said.
According to the report, prepared by New York attorney James Gesualdi, staff interviews indicated that newer staff were aware of the dangers of the maintenance area to divers, but were not aware of the potential dangers to the manatees. The area used to be cleaned out every couple of months but in 2010, it was determined that maintenance inside the tunnel was no longer necessary.
Gesualdi wrote in the report that aquarium employees he interviewed were familiar with problems with the panel.
“Two of those situations occurred the week before Snooty’s death,” the report states. “Reporting of these occurrences, if at all, was verbal and informal, and was not recorded in the dive logs.”
The report also states that in the week prior to Snooty’s drowning, “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.”
John Quinlan, board of trustees vice president, said the commitment since Snooty’s death was to tell the truth and be transparent.
“This comprehensive process, which took significant time to complete, confirmed that Snooty’s death was the result of a preventable accident and that several factors contributed to this tragedy,” Quinlan said, noting the museum is actively addressing those issues, which include a deficiency in record keeping and reporting and a lack of proactive follow through.
Besio said in her apology, “We have made, and continue to make, substantive changes, operationally and philosophically, to address the breakdowns that contributed to this tragic accident.”
Jeanie Kirkpatrick, president of the board of trustees, called it a challenging time for the museum and staff, “but we appreciate the overwhelming support we have received from the community and from Snooty fans around the world.”
Three days after announcing how Bradenton’s beloved mascot died, the museum said it would be “pursuing a third-party review of our care procedures and facility,” said Communications Manager Jessica Schubick on July 27.