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Dispelling the Rumor That Haunted the World’s Oldest Known Manatee

RIP Snooty, the one and only.

Snooty at 63.
Snooty at 63. Dhphoto/CC BY-SA 3.0

Snooty, the world’s oldest captive manatee—and easily the world’s most beloved—died Sunday at the South Florida Museum, just a day after celebrating his 69th birthday.

Snooty’s age was remarkable for several reasons. Manatees in the wild generally only live to around age 30, while the next oldest manatees ever to live in Florida died at ages 59 and 48, according to Live Science.

Snooty was born in 1948 in an aquarium operating out of a sunken Danish warship, before he was eventually moved to the South Florida Museum in 1966. He became Manatee County’s official mascot in 1979. His death was ruled accidental, officials said, after he somehow gained entrance to a tube not normally accessible to animals. (The circumstances are still under investigation.)

But in life—and, possibly, in death, too—Snooty was unable to shake a certain conspiracy theory that took root over the years. This Snooty, it posits, might not be the original. Had Snooty been secretly replaced at some point with a younger manatee? Museum officials have long denied it, but it never stopped the rumors.

“That was a popular thing to do years ago: If you lose one marine mammal, you’d get another one and just give it the same name,” one official told the Associated Press in 2013, likely referring to parks such as SeaWorld, which used the name Shamu for multiple orcas around the country. “In our particular case, it’s not true.”

The museum’s evidence? Distinctive scars, for starters, in addition to a muscled upper body and (very) large tail. Marty Clear, a reporter at the Bradenton Herald, outlined some other issues with the theory on Friday:

Besides the logistics, there are some problems … Capturing wild manatees and keeping them (except for rehabilitation) is illegal, so the museum would have had to do something very, very bad, or done business with someone else who had, and hoped they wouldn’t get caught. Or they would have had to strike a deal with a facility that kept manatees. There are not many of those, and they’re not likely to sell their creatures. (And if they sold them, people would know about it.)

Sparing any illegal—and highly discoverable—manatee-trafficking, the Snooty that recently passed was the one and only.

So what becomes of the Snooty fans now that he’s gone? One man is trying to honor Snooty with a statue. That fan, Anthony Pusateri, launched an online petition Sunday night to replace a Confederate statue in Bradenton with one for Snooty.

“By doing so, the Confederate monument could possibly be moved to a museum (or other more appropriate location) out of everyday public eye and a more positive symbol then take its place,” Pusateri wrote.

By late Monday afternoon, there were 1,900 supporters.