Bradenton, Florida- The death of Snooty the longest living manatee in captivity stunned a community last month. Today an investigation by a New York attorney and animal welfare advocate shows Shooty’s death was a “preventable accident.”
“On behalf of the museum I apologize,” says Brynne Anne Besio, South Florida Museum’s CEO. Besio is sorry the museum staff did not repair a panel to an underwater plumbing compartment. Snooty drowned when the panel to this 30 by 30-inch maintenance tube fell off he swam inside and got stuck.
“It’s with a heavy heart Snooty died as a result of a preventable accident,” says John Quinlan, Board of Trustees Vice-President.
It turns out the aquarium staff knew about the faulty panel.
"The aquarium staff was aware the panel was askew, loose, missing screws as early as July 16th a week prior to Snooty’s death,” says Besio.
But according to the investigation, the problem wasn’t recorded in the dive log nor hardly discussed just part of a long list of mistakes made.
Besio says, “Some action was taken but no effective repairs made at the time”
According to the report, the panel remained closed for 7 years. It was off limits to divers but the report states no one thought about the manatees’ safety.
The daily dives were not done regularly. According to the report, the week of Snooty’s death 3 and possibly 4 dives were cut short and one day was skipped.
Aquarium staffing is small just 6 members both full and part time. The report states training is limited and new staff learns by shadowing or mostly learning on the job.
Three other manatees in the rehabilitation program lived with Snooty and they too were in danger. Besio says, “Clearly the panel needed adjustment it wasn’t’ done effectively and that made it not safe.”
The museum has made changes. There’s new staffing, retraining and cross training, new dive checklists, new record keeping and protocols for reporting, communication, maintenance, and repairs.
The report provides answers into how and why Snooty died but it won’t change the outcome. Many museum visitors hope the changes made will honor Snooty’s memory.
Pamela Hering says, “I’m sorry it happened as long as people learn to communicate better train better that’s what counts.”
The museum is also working with national animal care experts to review this report and create a new program focused on manatee rehabilitation, conservation, and education. The museum is also getting help from the US Department of Agriculture and U.S. Fish and Wildlife.
There is a Snooty Memorial Open House Sunday, September 10th. It's free From noon until five. You can join others and pay tribute to Snooty's remarkable life.