In a tragic turn of events, a beloved manatee named Hugh passed away at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida. The 38-year-old manatee was found dead on April 11, 2023, after engaging in an unusual increase in mating behavior with his brother, Buffett.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Marine Mammal Pathobiology Lab conducted a necropsy on Hugh, revealing a 14.5 cm long tear in the ventral wall of his colon as the fatal injury. This tear was likely caused by repetitive and vigorous mating behavior.

The aquarium’s animal care team had been closely monitoring Hugh and Buffett throughout the day, and there were no evident signs of discomfort or distress that would have necessitated intervention. The decision to distract rather than physically separate the manatees was made to avoid causing undue anxiety and negative effects, which had been observed in the past.

Jenessa Gjeltema from the University of California, Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine, confirmed to NBC News that same-sex interactions among male manatees, even siblings, are not unusual. Manatees are not particularly selective about their partners and may engage in sexual activity with any individual in the vicinity, regardless of gender.

Hugh and Buffett were born at the Miami Seaquarium and were transferred to Mote from ZooTampa in 1996. They held the unique distinction of being the only manatees involved in voluntary, detailed behavioral research aimed at aiding manatee conservation. Hugh’s invaluable contributions to the scientific understanding of manatee behavior and his species’ conservation will remain his enduring legacy.

The death of Hugh the manatee is a tragic reminder of the intricate nature of manatee behavior and the importance of ongoing research and conservation efforts to ensure their survival. As we continue to learn from these gentle giants, we are reminded of the delicate balance of nature and the profound impact our actions can have on these magnificent creatures.