Snooty at age 66. Image via the AP.

Just when you think all people are terrible, you come across a story like this: thousands mourn and celebrate the life of a manatee.

Snooty the manatee–a baby boomer who survived the Cold War, 13 presidential administrations, and both the addition and removal of his species from the endangered list–drowned senselessly on July 23rd, 2017, when stuck in a maintenance hatch at the South Florida Museum. (Manatees can’t swim backwards and need to surface every 20 minutes to breathe.) Just two days earlier, a celebration was held for his 69th birthday, attended–according to one manatee on Twitter–by 5,000 people with a cake made of fruits. He was the oldest known manatee in captivity.

Snooty was the official Manatee County mascot, the star of the Snooty cam, and a kind of manatee Abe Vigoda, the subject of reports of false deaths throughout his lifetime. In 2014, he made Channel 8 news when one of those claims was debunked.

Nearly 13,000 signatures have accumulated on a petition to replace a confederate monument with a statue of Snooty outside the courthouse. A page on the South Florida Museum’s website, “Remembering Snooty,” contains highlights from his life and dozens of tributes from commenters from around the world. Without hyperbole, this entry may be the sweetest thing I have read in my life.

...It was a thrill to meet Snooty. He liked you, and was unhesitating about showing it. Raised from infancy by humans who’d loved and fussed over him and called him “Baby,” he’d grown to love people right back.

And boy, did he love. As we grow up we realize it’s only in Disney that marine mammals seek out humans to bestow affection; when they do it’s the tip-off that their chosen one has a pure heart. But the magical could happen for me at the museum in Bradenton. When Snooty powered up from the water to see me, suddenly I was special. As he gummed my hand or elbow, taking progressively more of my limb past his bristly face and into his toothless, chomping mouth, I knew my abraded skin would sting for hours. And I absolutely did not care. I never wanted it to end.

So when my mother got sick, and sped through her decline, and my life became doctors and hospitals and almost unbridled fear, I needed help to endure it. I went to the Museum. Cradling Snooty’s head, I whispered, in the voice I’d use with a baby, “I’ve missed you. I’ve missed you! How have you been?” We sat together and I petted
and fussed over him while he gummed and nuzzled me, and in time I was me again...

– Jennifer Turner Gans

Outrage has spilled into protests, when yesterday Florida Voices for Animals demanded that the museum’s CEO, COO, and negligent staff be fired. The museum is “strongly considering a third-party death review,” the Orlando Sentinel reports. Neither Florida Voices for Animals nor a representative from the South Florida Museum could be reached at this time.

For those of us who never got to meet Snooty, here is a video of him from the South Florida Museum.