The death of Snooty, the beloved 69-year-old manatee who called Bradenton's South Florida Museum home, was deemed a "preventable accident," museum officials said Thursday.
He died as a direct result of museum workers failing to repair an underwater panel through which he swam and became trapped, officials said at a news conference where they announced the results of an investigation into Snooty's death.
Museum workers were also aware of the malfunction up to a week before the death, officials said.
Snooty was found dead in his tank on July 23 — a day after he celebrated his birthday. He was the South Florida Museum's main attraction, the official mascot of Manatee County, Florida's most famous manatee and the oldest manatee living in captivity. He drowned in his tank in late July
Museum officials said a breakdown in communications, failure to follow procedures, and human error contributed to Snooty's death.
Specifically, officials said aquarium staff were aware the panel through which Snooty swam and couldn't escape was either askew, loose, or had screws loose, as early as July 16 — a week before his death.
But it was not repaired, officials said.
"In a review of records, documents, photos and videos, it is with the heaviest of hearts that the board confirms that Snooty died as a result of a preventable accident," said John Quinlan, the board's vice president. "Several factors that contributed to the tragedy include deficiencies in record-keeping, lack of proactive follow through and the need for more formalized training of staff."
Museum CEO Brynne Anne Besio said "mistakes were made" and the museum had "reshaped staffing," but she did not way whether anyone was fired over Snoothy's death.
"Changes in staffing have been made," Besio said. "Re-training and cross-training of aquarium facility staff to inspect the habitat has also been done and from that has come new protocols of reporting and record-keeping. We also have a new work order system for repairs."
"On behalf of the museum, I apologize."
In addition, Besio said, animal care experts have been brought in to help reshape staff and policies and put together the "best manatee care program." New dive checklists have also been implemented.
"I am confident that we have put in place changes that will give us the most professional team of staff and volunteers," Besio said.
The museum also invited Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials and aquatic engineers to review the facilities and offer recommendations on the structure of the habitat, Besio said.
The museum still has three manatees — Randall, Baca and Gale — in its care.
Officials also announced that the museum will open to the public for free for a Snooty day of remembrance on Sept. 10 from noon to 5 p.m. The celebration will include a visual tribute to the manatee and the chance for visitors to help create memorial projects.