We have all been robbed of one Snooty, the beautiful, beloved 69-year-old manatee believed to be not only the world's oldest manatee living in captivity, but the oldest in the world.
According to Bay News 9, Snooty passed away at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, Florida just one day after celebrating his 69th birthday.
— Zack Wittman (@zack_wittman) July 22, 2017
— Zack Wittman (@zack_wittman) July 23, 2017
Manatees, which are three separate but closely related species of mild-mannered aquatic mammals that graze on sea grass and other plants, are basically nature's good boys and girls. They can weigh more than half a ton, but are both slow and curious, qualities that make them vulnerable to human predation or negligence and have tragically led to their current endangered or threatened status across the globe.
Snooty's age was remarkably prodigious, given manatees have a biological life expectancy of roughly 40 years in the wild. In practice they often perish at much younger ages due to all the bad things some humans do to them, like degrading their habitats or hitting them repeatedly with boats. The IUCN Red List estimates fewer than 10,000 mature West Indian manatees remain in the wild.
Snooty was around for so long that just two days ago, the Bradenton Herald reported on perennial rumours he died long in the past and had been replaced with an impostor. It unfortunately looks like he was not a victim of his advanced age, however, but instead swam into a part of the enclosure which was supposed to be sealed.
"Snooty was found in an underwater area only used to access plumbing for the exhibit life support system," the South Florida Museum told Bay News 9 in a statement. "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."
The museum will remain closed while the investigation continues and "staff who worked with him have an opportunity to grieve," it added.
Three other manatees who were sharing the enclosure are safe.
Thousands of people regularly attended Snooty's birthday parties, and he served as the official mascot of Manatee County. Snooty was one of just four or five manatees in the entire state allowed to receive regular human contact and training, because he was too old to be released, and was well known for loving it.
"Snooty's very important to this community," museum provost and chief operating officer Jeff Rodgers told the Guardian. "He's been with us for 68 years -- generations have grown up with that manatee. ... We grieve right along with these folks. We've given a lot of hugs on the front porch of the museum today."