Hugh the Manatee, Dead at 38 From Alleged Negligence, Deserves Justice

Target: Tom Vilsack, Secretary of U.S. Department of Agriculture

Goal: Punish aquarium/laboratory reportedly responsible for unexpected death of popular manatee.

A beloved manatee nearly four decades old died suddenly at Florida’s Mote Aquarium and Marine Laboratory. The manatee, Hugh, had been involved—along with his brother—in behavioral research and had also found fame as a Super Bowl predictor. In a tragic twist, Hugh’s brother was likely the immediate cause of his death. Hugh had sustained a tear in his colon and other traumatic injuries from apparent violent sexual contact with the much larger manatee. But a recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has reportedly laid the ultimate responsibility for Hugh’s death on the laboratory that should have protected him.

The report issued by the agency reads “the facility failed to handle Hugh expeditiously and as carefully as possible to prevent trauma and physical harm, resulting in the death of the animal.” Despite the laboratory claiming it acted in a speedy manner after noting “unusual behavior” from Hugh, employees at Mote allegedly witnessed repeated aggressions against the smaller manatee throughout the day of his death. No action was seemingly taken. In addition, keeping animals that are known to pose a potential danger to each other (as manatees are) isolated together for years could be viewed as deadly negligence itself.

In spite of the report’s findings, Mote has taken no responsibility for this death and has in fact defended its actions and its so-called “gold standards.” Sign the petition below to demand the USDA act where this allegedly negligent conservation center will not.


Dear Secretary Vilsack,

When Snooty, the world’s oldest known manatee, drowned at the South Florida Museum, the Florida-based Mote Aquarium touted its own high standards for its manatees: Hugh and Buffett. Fast-forward a few years, and the laboratory is facing allegations that its actions—or inaction—contributed to the sudden death of Hugh. This agency has released an inspector’s report confirming as much.

Yet instead of accepting responsibility, evaluating possible wrongdoing, and promising reform, Mote is essentially dismissing the USDA’s findings and continuing business as usual. What happens when status quo leads to another seemingly preventable tragedy?  As the agency tasked with ensuring animal welfare, now the onus is on the USDA to act.

Please take the necessary measures to hold this potentially dangerous organization that has apparently learned nothing to account.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Will Pittenger


  1. To excuse negligence is to encourage more of it.

  2. Jaime Perez says:

    There is no excuse for this tragedy. These people don’t care about the welfare of the animals in their “care.” Hugh should have been protected from abuse.

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