Snooty drowned, South Florida Museum officials said Monday -- a horrifying conclusion, based on a necropsy, to a series of discoveries that started a day earlier before someone at the museum called 911.
In a 911 call made from the museum at 9:35 a.m. Sunday, the caller began with, “We have a problem.”
The caller asked 911 for the Bradenton Fire Department, saying, “We have an issue in our tank, which Snooty the manatee is (in). ... We’re draining our tank right now. I want a fire engine to show up. We have a stuck manatee kind of situation or something where I need someone to help extract the manatee.”
According to Jeff Rodgers, museum chief operating officer, Snooty somehow gained access to the life support maintenance tube, a feat that has left staff bewildered considering the entrance is 30 by 30 inches and Snooty was 89 inches in girth. Rodgers said the panel on the tube was last opened five years ago and is for emergency use only.
A necropsy found that Snooty drowned, Rodgers said.
While the U.S. Department of Agriculture is the regulatory agency that inspects facilities with captured wildlife, the USDA is not involved in what museum officials say is a “review process.” USDA did inspect the aquarium last month and there were no citations issued.
Museum CEO Brynne Anne Besio said everything is being done to determine the details of how Snooty gained access to the tube, but she could not estimate when those results would be released. Rodgers said the latch coming open remains a mystery and “something happened,” but she could not elaborate at this time. Rodgers said divers inspect the tank, built in 1993, and the latches on a daily basis, and, “There were no issues with that panel whatsoever.”
Rodgers said museum staff members are grateful for the outpouring of community love and support.
“No one wants to understand what happened here more than we do,” Rodgers said.
Divers returned to the tank Monday to ensure the safety of the three manatees currently undergoing rehabilitation.
“We have a 68-year history of caring for manatees, 33 in the past 19 years and we’ve had no major issues, or injuries of any kind,” Rodgers said.
The museum will open for regular business Tuesday and Rodgers said a memorial service is being planned in the coming days. Besio said Snooty’s annual birthday bash also will continue to honor Snooty’s legacy and all he has done to help understand and rehabilitate his fellow manatees.
Rodgers also said no decisions have yet been made on what will happen to the remains of Snooty, and officials will work diligently on creating a memorial to Snooty on museum grounds. Besio said she very much wants public input as that process moves forward.
In a press release issued later Monday, Rodgers stated that the panel Snooty accessed was located just under the 4-foot ledge where Snooty was often hand fed. Somehow, Snooty, who weighed about 1,300 pounds, was able to swim through the access but was unable turn around to swim out.
“Snooty was just too large for that to happen,” the release states.
Besio went on to say, “We are heartsick about Snooty’s death and want his legacy to continue through our manatee rehabilitation program and through all of our education and outreach programs.”
The following is the transcript from the 911 call from the South Florida Museum Sunday morning at 9:35 a.m.
CALLER: We have a problem. We have manatees over here, we need the fire department to come and tell us what to do.
911: As far as… what in the museum?
CALLER: We have a tank issue with our tank…. Where we maintain manatees and I’m going to need some help.
911: Sure let me give you the Bradenton Fire Department, hold on one moment
(Transfer to Bradenton Fire)
911 Operator: Bradenton 911 what is the address of your emergency?
911: Hey, I’ve got South Florida Museum on the phone, 201 10th Street West, they’re going need some assistance from the fire department.
911 Operator: Ok. Hello Caller?
CALLER: Yes, my name’s (inaudible).
911 Operator: OK and what was your name
911 Operator: OK Jack, what’s going on there?
CALLER: We have an issue in our tank which Snooty the manatee is (in). We’re draining our tank right now. I want a fire engine to show up. We have a stuck manatee kind of situation or something where I need someone to help us extract the manatee.
911: Okay gotcha, all right, we’ll get our fire department over there as quick as possible.