This morning the South Florida Museum announced that Snooty the manatee's death was the result of a preventable accident, and that the loose panel in his tank that ultimately led to his demise was discovered a week before he drowned. The beloved sea cow, a Manatee County institution, had celebrated his 69th birthday just a day before his death.
"Due to breakdowns in record keeping, reporting, communication and follow-through, while some action was taken no action culminated in an effective repair," the museum said in a release.
After Snooty's death, which rocked the community, the museum brought in James Gesualdi, an attorney and animal welfare advocate, to investigate its circumstances. Gesualdi embarked on a thorough review of the accident, interviewing members of the museum's staff—including all manatee care team members, key facility staff, executive staff and the veterinarian who cared for Snooty for more than 20 years—and reviewing documents, photos, videos and security footage.
"Several factors contributed to this tragedy and we are actively addressing them today," the museum said in its release, which can be viewed in full on the South Florida Museum website. Those factors included "deficiencies in record keeping and reporting; a breakdown within departmental communications; a lack of proactive follow through; and the need for improved staff training."
The museum's plans to address these issues include changes in staffing; cross-training aquarium and facility staff about the manatees' habitat; developing new dive checklists; instituting new record-keeping, reporting and communications protocols; and putting in place a new work order system for maintenance, repairs and coordinating assistance from other departments.
At a press conference this morning, museum CEO Brynne Anne Besio apologized to the community.
“On behalf of the museum, I apologize for the mistakes that led to Snooty’s death,” she said. “We have made, and continue to make, substantive changes—operationally and philosophically—to address the breakdowns that contributed to this tragic accident. Snooty brought joy to millions of lives and the museum remains committed to ensuring that his voice continues to inspire support for manatee rehabilitation, conservation and education for generations to come. I hope that the community will join us on Sept. 10 to help us honor his legacy during a special memorial open house.”
In our September issue, environmental reporter Craig Pittman chronicles Snooty's long, varied life. Read that piece here.