BRADENTON, Fla. -- South Florida Museum officials announced today the official cause of death of Snooty the longest living manatee in captivity.

The museums COO Jeff Rodgers told a group of reporter Snooty drowned when he got stuck in an opening leading to maintenance equipment.

Rodger says the panel had not been opened for five years.

While museum officials try to figure to figure out this tragic accident a memorial for Snooty grows outside the entrance to his home the South Florida Museum.

“Big, old, gentle creature,” says Kevin Brooks, who first met Snooty when he was 7 years old 50 years ago.

Some fans like Brooks bring flowers, He says, “Everybody is upset…he’s like one of the family.”

And others-- his favorite foods….romaine lettuce and carrots.

“It’s like losing a best friend,” says Noah Carpenter, he added a head of romaine lettuce to Snooty’s memorial at the museum’s front entrance.

A necropsy ruled Snooty drowned two days after celebrating his 69th birthday. Museum officials say a 30 by 30-inch panel to a plumbing area underneath a 4-foot ledge in the tank opened. Snooty's 1,300-pound body, 89 inches around got stuck. Rodgers says the panels are inspected daily.

“Something happened to dislodge that panel from that access opening. We do not know what happened,” says Rodgers.

While the museum investigates Snooty’s death officials have plans to expand its manatee rehabilitation program, the planetarium and history museum but clearly Snooty was the headliner that drew in visitors.

Carpenter says, “Everybody loved him saw him. If you lived or visited here had to see Snooty.”

Gift shop souvenirs with Snooty on it were big sellers but with Snooty gone can the museum survive?

Brynne Anne Besio, CEO of the South Florida Museum says, “We know people come to the museum to see all kinds of things here, a lot is about learning about manatees, we should keep the education going forward.”

Will it be enough to draw people in? Besios says, “We think we have much to give our community.”

Museum officials are discussing a permanent memorial for Snooty and planning a public memorial for the manatee loved by many.

The USDA inspected the museum in June and officials say they didn't have any citations.

Since Snooty was part of the museum's collection, meaning museum property. Instead of federal agencies investigating Snooty's death, FWC says the investigation is up to museum staff.