Manatee Dies At Florida Aquarium After ‘High-Intensity Activity’ With Brother

A manatee died at a Florida aquarium in April 2023, and it’s only after a full pathology and necropsy report that the cause of the animal’s death has come to light. As it turns out, the animal, named Hugh, passed away after what was described as “high-intensity sexual behavior” with his brother, NBC Miami reports.

Here’s the rundown on this bizarre case.

  1. The incident went happened at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota. Hugh died suddenly on April 29, though employees did note that his behavior had changed leading up to him becoming unresponsive in his tank.
  2. Hugh and his brother, Buffett, are the only two manatees at the aquarium. They were part of a behavioral research project that aims to promote manatee conservation efforts around the world. Buffett, for the record, seems to be just fine.
  3. The FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’s Marine Mammal Pathobiology Lab performed Hugh’s autopsy and made some troubling discoveries, mainly that he died due to a 14.5cm rip in his colon that resulted from a sexual encounter with Buffett. Hugh also had several other traumatic injuries that contributed but did not cause his death.
  4. The aquarium say this is the first time anything like this has ever happened there. Mote Marine said that while Hugh and Buffett were normal in that they would “exhibit approximately two months of seasonal behavioral changes including, but no limited to, an increase in sexual behavior” as all male manatees do, it’s never been quite so intense before.
  5. The manatees are under constant observation throughout the day. Employees say that while they noticed Buffett and Hugh seeking one another’s attention throughout the day, there was no indication that there was anything untoward going on. They also say they didn’t notice Hugh being in any kind of pain. Manatees often show distress by crunching, listing, or avoiding interaction, and Hugh did none of that.
  6. Hugh wasn’t taken from the tank as separation is stressful on both of the animals. Instead, trainers decided to use distraction techniques, which they say are generally successful. Clearly not in this case!
  7. Hugh died at the age of 38. He was born at the Miami Seaquarium but later moved to ZooTampa before eventually coming to Mote Marine in 1996. Poor guy.
  8. When will we stop confining animals? Whether for research purposes or not, keeping animals confined that are wild and meant to be free is cruel. We’ve seen time and time again the way it destroys them and causes self-harming and even violent behavior towards others. While it’s possible this could have happened in the wild, it’s very possible that the heightened stress the animals faced in captivity caused this level of damage.

RIP, Hugh 🙁

Jennifer has been the managing editor of Bolde since its launch in 2014. Before that, she was the founding editor of HelloGiggles and also worked as an entertainment writer for Bustle and Digital Spy. Her work has been published in Bon Appetit, Decider, Vanity Fair, The New York TImes, and many more.