FLORIDA - The world's oldest known manatee died on Sunday (July 23) after "a heartbreaking accident", South Florida Museum chief executive Brynne Anne Besio said in a Guardian newspaper report.
Just a day after celebrating its 69th birthday, Snooty - the mascot of Manatee County since 1979 - died after it got stuck in a maintenance hatch leading off the tank. The exact cause of death is still pending the results of a necropsy.
According to the Guardian report, museum provost and chief operating officer Jeff Rodgers said: "The hatch is big enough for a 1300lb manatee to get in. It appears that he was not able to get himself back around to get himself out of the situation."
Mr Rodgers added that the opening of the hatch was a mystery, since it was designed to prevent manatees in the tank from nudging it open. Because the incident happened at night, the "Snootycam" used to monitor Snooty was also turned off.
Full investigations will be conducted, although the museum has ruled out foul play.
After the discovery of the body on Sunday morning, the aquarium was closed for the day and staff helped to share the news with visitors at the front door.
Mr Rodgers said in the Guardian report: "Snooty's very important to this community. He's been with us for 68 years - generations have grown up with that manatee... we grieve right along with these folks."
Manatees in the wild generally live into their teens, with some reaching their 40s or older. Snooty has spent 68 of his 69 years at the South Florida Museum.
The three young manatees - Randall, Baca, and Gale - which shared the tank with Snooty, were unharmed.