Among all the celebrities who died in 2017 - including the likes of Chuck Berry, Hugh Hefner, Jerry Lewis, Mary Tyler Moore and Edith Windsor - there is a special place for Snooty, a male Florida manatee who lived at the South Florida Museum’s Parker Manatee Aquarium in Bradenton.
When Snooty died, two days after his 69th birthday, he was the oldest manatee in captivity or, indeed, anywhere else. For example, the average life span of a wild manatee is only 40 years.
The life of Snooty is a classic Florida story. In 1948 Samuel J. Stout, owner of the Miami Aquarium and Tackle Company, purchased a female manatee, Lady, not realizing that she was pregnant. On July 21, Lady gave birth to a male calf Stout named Baby. Because the permit from the State of Florida only allowed Stout to own one manatee, Stout eventually gave Baby away to the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, the largest city and county seat of Manatee County.
On June 20, 1949 Baby moved to the South Florida Museum, where he lived the rest of his life, and into a 3,000 gallon tank built specially for him. Baby was renamed Baby Snoots, possibly inspired by the Fanny Brice character Baby Snooks but, as he got older, he became known as Snooty.
In 1966 the South Florida Museum and Aquarium moved into its current location, where a new 9,000 gallon pool was built for Snooty’s disposal. For the rest of his life, Snooty shared his tank with one or two temporary roommates, manatees who lived in the aquarium while they recovered from illness or accidents. Though his roommates eventually returned to the wild, Snooty remained in captivity.
Because he was hand reared from birth, it was decided that Snooty would never be able to survive in the wild. Snooty remained in his watery prison, the official mascot of Manatee County, where he received unique hands-on attention from the Aquarium staff and the affection of many generations of visitors. Snooty was unusually smart, and he was able to remember the voices of his former keepers as well as training behaviors that he learned when was only a year old.
I met Snooty about a decade ago, when my late partner Michael Greenspan and I visited a friend in Bradenton and took the opportunity to visit Bradenton’s most famous resident. To all of us present, Snooty was a celebrity, and the aquarium gave him the attention normally reserved for famous humans. I remember a docent taking us around the aquarium, telling us Snooty’s unique life story before he introduced us to Snooty himself, as big as life, feasting on lettuce leaves.
Since it was Snooty’s birthday, the Aquarium staff gave him a birthday cake made of vegetables and fruits while everyone sang “Happy Birthday to You.” Manatee County school children, proud of their local attraction, presented Snooty with hand-drawn birthday cards. Though Snooty shared his tank with two temporary roommates, there was not much interaction between them. Perhaps he knew that they would leave, and that he would stay. It was sad, a wild animal who, due to circumstances, was forced to live his life in an indoor tank.
On July 23, 2017, two days after he turned 69, Snooty died. According to a final report issued by the South Florida Museum, “Snooty died when an access panel blocking an underwater plumbing area in his habitat came off at some point on the night of July 22 or the morning of July 23 and that Snooty swam into the opening, was unable to get out and drowned.”
The younger, smaller manatees were able to go in and out but Snooty, due to his size, was not able to do so. The Museum investigated and concluded that Snooty’s death could have been prevented. Perhaps it was a blessing. Though Parker Manatee Aquarium continues to house manatees, they are only temporary residents.
The South Florida Museum, and its Parker Manatee Aquarium, is located at 201 10th Street West in Bradenton. For more information visit SouthFloridaMuseum.org.