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10 Fascinating Facts About Snooty, the World’s Oldest Manatee

by Julie Henthorn
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

The Guinness World Record title of Oldest Manatee (in captivity) was given to Snooty, a 69-year-old resident of Bradenton, Florida. He seemed to defy the odds as manatees in the wild typically only live for 10 to 15 years. However, this title is not what made Snooty truly special.

The 1,300-pound (590-kilogram) manatee spent his lifetime helping scientists unlock the mysteries of manatees, showing beyond doubt just how intelligent and magnificent these marine mammals are. From birth to death, the circumstances surrounding his life and achievements were truly remarkable.

From being the official mascot of Manatee County, Florida, to appearing on the Captain Kangaroo show, as well as having his own line of stuffed animals, Snooty demonstrated that he was a celebrity in his own right. He charmed his way into millions of hearts, both young and old, and proved that he was anything but a simple sea cow. Here are 10 fascinating facts about Snooty, the world’s oldest manatee.

Related: 10 Ageless Animals That Do Not Grow Old

10 Given Away by His Owner

Manatees Are the “Sea Cows” of the Coasts | Nat Geo Wild

Snooty’s mother, Lady, was rescued in 1947 by Samuel Stout, who ran the Miami Aquarium and Tackle Company, after she had been hit by a boat in Biscayne Bay, an estuary located near Miami, Florida. It was later discovered that she was pregnant, and Snooty was born on July 21, 1948.

Then, in 1949, the residents of Manatee County, Florida, were preparing to hold “The De Soto Celebration” to commemorate Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto’s arrival on land in 1536. However, seeing that the county was named after the manatee, the organizers were desperately searching for a manatee to put on display during the celebration.

Stout stepped up to the challenge and obtained a permit from the city of Miami to transport Snooty all the way to the city of Bradenton, Florida (Link 1), which was 242 miles (390 kilometers) away. While everyone in attendance, especially the children, fell in love with Snooty, a rumor was spread that Stout was using harpoons to capture manatees.

In light of these allegations, both the Humane Society and the Audobon Society protested Stout’s supposed “cruelty” to the Florida state board. Unfortunately for Stout, when official records were reviewed, it was discovered that Stout only had a permit to own one Manatee, Snooty’s mother. So he was ordered to let Snooty go. Knowing that Snooty would never survive in the wild, he gave him to Manatee County, specifically the city of Bradenton. He was transferred to the South Florida Museum, where he remained all his life.[1]

9 Born on a Danish Warship

Photo credit: Benjamin Olsen / Wikimedia Commons

The Prins Valdemar was built in Helsingør, Denmark, in 1892, and throughout its 60-year existence, it was used for several purposes. The ship was used for gun running during the Mexican Revolution, a blockade runner during World War I, and later used to transport coconuts between Nicaragua and New York.

Richard Walters, a U.S. Army Hot Air Balloon commander, and George Risen, a hotel owner in New York City, purchased the Prins Valdemar in 1922 and planned to convert the ship into a floating cabaret that would provide hotel rooms, a restaurant, and entertainment to the rapidly-growing city of Miami.

However, on January 10, 1926, receding tides and strong winds caused the ship to capsize in the basin. Although it took six weeks, the vessel was eventually able to be recovered from the waters. Regardless of the ship’s previous fate, Walter would not give up his vision of remodeling the boat to make money. After working for two years to raise funds, the Prins Valdemar aquarium opened on May 1, 1928. The ship would later become the Miami Aquarium and Tackle Company, Snooty’s birthplace.[2]

8 His Name Wasn’t Always Snooty

Baby Manatee and Mama Manatee

When Snooty was born in 1948, he had a much different name. Samuel Stout had initially given him the name “Baby.” Original, right? However, when “Baby” was given to the city of Bradenton, he was given the name “Baby Snoots,” which was a play on words and a reference to the bratty theater character played by Fanny Brice in 1912.

When “Baby Snoots” was in his 20s, he outgrew what was deemed a childish name and was simply called Snooty.[3]

7 No One Knows What Happened to His Mother

Photo Credit:NOAA Photo Library / Flickr

While Samuel Stout was forced to give up Snooty, Lady, Snooty’s mother, remained with Stout at the Miami Aquarium and Tackle Company.

However, in 1949, the city of Miami deemed the 21-year-old aquarium “outdated” and decided not to renew the lease. The aquarium was given 90 days to cease operations, which was not much time to relocate the 2,500 animals that called the aquarium home. Given the time crunch and the inability to sell or rehome the animals within such a short period of time, all the animals, including an 8-foot (2.4-meter) nurse shark and Lady, were released into the Biscayne Bay and never seen again.[4]

6 More Human Than Manatee

Snooty the Manatee

Even though Snooty was a manatee, he had particular characteristics, tastes, and behaviors that made him seem much more human than manatee. He had his own taste in food, music, and even women and was a “mother figure” to rehabilitated manatees that shared his home during the course of his lifetime. He was often even seen sleeping on his back with his flippers across his chest, the way a human would.

While manatees in the wild are known for eating fruit such as oranges or melons that have fallen into the water, Snooty was picky about the fruits he ate. He loved pineapples and strawberries but would specifically turn down bananas.

Snooty also had particular tastes in music. An informal study was conducted to see if and how manatees would respond to music. When Micheal Buble and Elvis Presley songs were played, Snooty would come to the surface of his tank, rest on his flippers, and attentively listen to the duration of the entire song. However, when other genres of music, such as rock and rap, were played, Snooty paid them no mind.

Snooty’s preferences did not stop with his food or his choice of music. He also had specific taste in women, which was intriguing because manatees naturally have poor eyesight. However, Snooty easily recognized his trainers by sight, not by the sound of their voice, and also demonstrated a fondness for blonde women, especially actress Tippi Hedren—of Hitchcock’s The Birds—who made several visits to see Snooty.

While Snooty was a male, he had “motherly” qualities that proved to be beneficial to the South Florida Museum and other manatees who would call the facility home. Over the course of his lifetime, 33 other manatees were brought in that needed rehabilitation, and they would be placed in Snooty’s tank. As with any infant or juvenile animal, being placed into a strange environment is very difficult, and they often need an adult figure to guide them. For the other manatees brought to the South Florida Museum, Snooty was that figure, and he provided a sense of comfort which helped them acclimate to their new home.[5]

5 Large (and Famous) Fanbase

Snooty’s 63rd Birthday Celebration

The city of Bradenton, Florida, is not considered “large,” with its most current population listed as 55,905. However, millions of people from all over the country, and the world, were drawn there to visit its most famous resident—Snooty. Over 6,000 people visited the South Florida Museum in July 2013 to join in on Snooty’s 65th birthday celebration.

In addition to the number of visitors who came to see Snooty each year, he also received numerous visits from celebrities. Aside from Tippi Hedren, he was visited by Robert Ripley and former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. His fanbase was also not limited to the state of Florida, or even the United States, as Snooty also had a large following in Germany, which is a vast 4,787 miles (7,705 kilometers) from his home.[6]

4 Invaluable Information to Scientists

Snooty the manatee’s gifts to science

Not much scientific research had previously been done on manatees because they were considered unintelligent. However, Snooty proved those misconceptions to be completely false as he participated in studies related to manatee brain activity, reproduction, and reaction to environmental stimulation.

A manatee’s brain is the size of a softball, smooth, and does not have the “nooks and crannies” similar to those found in a human brain. Therefore, manatees were often thought to have very little brain activity. This theory was put to rest after Snooty participated in several research studies. Scientists learned that he, in fact, remembered the voices of his former trainers and also the training methods he was taught by them. In a separate test, Snooty was able to successfully complete experimental tasks the way dolphins could. In a third test, Snooty, along with two other manatees from the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida, was placed in a paddle-tapping project that would test their cognitive and long-term memory. The manatees from Lowry Park Zoo took six weeks to complete the testing requirements, but Snooty finished in a mere two weeks.

Snooty also helped the University of Florida prove their theories on how male manatees are able to locate females in heat. Their theory stated that female manatees were believed to release hormones within their urine that males could sense. When researchers released samples of female manatee urine into his tank, Snooty went wild. He did barrel rolls and began swimming much faster, clearly showing excitement for the female scent.

Perhaps one of the most important studies Snooty participated in was one that would test his ability to hear and see if there was a connection between manatees’ auditory ability and their reaction to stimulation in the water. Given that injuries and deaths from boats are unfortunately common to manatees in the wild, the results of this test could help boaters better understand how to avoid manatees while in the waterways. Snooty confirmed that manatees are indeed able to hear boat motors and that they have a tendency to go left when stimulated with the sound.[7]

3 Victim of Death Hoaxes

While Snooty was well-loved by so many, there were naturally naysayers who could not fathom the possibility of him living as long as he did and even went so far as to accuse the South Florida Museum of secretly replacing Snooty with other manatees without public knowledge.

In October 2014, someone used a fan-created Facebook page to share a post that was supposedly from the South Florida Museum stating Snooty had passed away. Given the speed that information travels across the internet, the hoax spread like wildfire, and the museum was inundated with calls from people wanting to clarify. Thankfully, at that time, the post was nothing more than a cruel rumor. Similar incidents occurred in 2015 and again two days before his actual death in 2017.[8]

2 Dies Day after His 69th Birthday

Beloved Manatee Snooty Unexpectedly Dies

Since 1993, Snooty’s birthday had been an annual celebration at the South Florida Museum that never failed to draw in a large crowd. Snooty’s 69th birthday was no different. He spent the day eating cake (well, a tower of pineapple, strawberries, and carrots shaped like a cake) with hundreds of loving fans who sang him “Happy Birthday.” However, just one short day later, the celebration quickly turned into mourning as museum officials announced his tragic death.

Sadly, Snooty had been found in the part of his tank that was solely used to house plumbing for the life-support system in his exhibit. When an access panel that is normally bolted shut came loose, Snooty was able to swim in but was unable to escape the area. The museum ceased operations for the remainder of the day to give both staff and Snooty fans time to mourn the loss and also to allow an investigation regarding the circumstances surrounding his death.[9]

1 Honored with a Living Memorial

SNN: Learn how to use Snooty’s living memorial

After the sorrowful news broke of Snooty’s death, fans across the globe and Bradenton city officials alike sent an outpouring of tributes to the museum. Some left posts via social media, while others flocked to the museum leaving cards, flowers, and lettuce outside.

A living memorial was created on the South Florida Museum website, given that Snooty had spent nearly seven decades assisting in vital scientific research and manatee conservation programs. The memorial included a specific timeline of Snooty’s life and accomplishments and also allowed those who loved him to share photos and heartfelt words.

In addition to the memorial, the South Florida Museum also hosted a Snooty Memorial Open House on September 24, 2017, which allowed guests to watch a visual tribute to the famous manatee. It also provided the opportunity for those in attendance to create memorial projects that would honor Snooty’s legacy.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen