For aquarium-goers to the South Florida Museum, Snooty the manatee has been among the most well-loved of aquatic creatures, up there with Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s Winter, the tail-less dolphin.

Well, Snooty is sadly no longer with us. Just two days following his 69th birthday, the famed manatee drowned after becoming stuck in a hatch that had been opened. “Aquarium staff is heartbroken,” said Jeff Rodgers, the museum’s chief operating officer.

The staff members arrived early Sunday morning and couldn’t find their manatee. After exploring the pool, they found him wedged in the hatch that led to a plumbing area. While the other younger, smaller manatees were able to swim through, Snooty wasn’t so fortunate. The hatch itself was usually bolted shut, but it “had somehow been knocked loose.”

Many who have enjoyed the manatee for decades have taken this event very much to heart, with some even leaving tributes for him. “We grieve right along with these folks,” Rodgers said. “We’ve given a lot of hugs on the front porch of the museum today as people were coming in. A lot of people loved that manatee. We loved him too.”

Snooty was the oldest manatee in captivity, and was the first to ever be born in captivity. An icon of marine animal rehabilitation, he was the official symbol of Florida’s Manatee County in 1979.

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