Last Saturday, I debated whether I should take my five-year old son to brave the crowds and celebrate Snooty the Manatee’s 69th birthday. The annual event in Bradenton, Florida usually draws a crowd of thousands.
I hate crowds. We didn’t go. By the next day, our chance to ever see Snooty again was gone.
The world’s oldest living manatee in captivity died, in what’s being called a “heartbreaking accident.” My mom read the news on Facebook while I was washing dishes. We were crushed.
Hours after eating a cake made of veggies, a panel somehow opened and allowed Snooty to swim inside a 30 inch by 30 inch space. It was after-hours. He became stuck and drowned. It’s surreal.
I’m still trying to process the headlines, along with the reason why I’m so darn sad. I’m not the only one. It’s the talk of the town, regional tv news, and social media worldwide.
The sweet sea cow spent his days greeting visitors, hoisting his flippers up on the edge of his tank. That’s how I met him — 30 years ago. The fact that I haven’t been back to visit him is unacceptable.
A week after the tragedy, heads of lettuce line the museum’s exterior as a touching memorial. There’s a sweet potato, a drawing of his likeness, and mylar balloons deflating in the hot Florida sun.
Three decades too late, I spent this evening at the museum. A private tour of the planetarium and aquarium was incredible. Three rescue manatees continue to swim, and eat hundreds of pounds of lettuce each day, in Snooty’s home.
Many people don’t understand the devastating loss to our community. Snooty was a childhood memory. He was the big attraction at our little museum.
There will never be another Snooty, but here’s how you can honor his memory: visit the museum; buy something in the gift shop; donate money. Keep his spirit alive.
Rest in peace, dear friend.