The Miami Herald
Federal and state wildlife officials are investigating who wrote the name “Trump” on the back of a manatee that was spotted in a popular wintering spot for the threatened creatures.
The agencies don’t think the manatee was hurt — the letters appear to have been formed by scraping away algae that often coats the backs of the slow-moving mammals — but the prank appears to be a clear violation of laws against harassing them.
“The manatee does not appear to be seriously injured as it seems that the word was written in algae on the animal’s back,” Christina Meister from the USFWS’s public affairs office said in an emailed statement.
USFWS and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are looking into the incident, she said.
The sighting was reported to federal authorities over the weekend. A video of the manatee swimming in the Blue Hole in the Homosassa River was first reported in the Citrus County Chronicle on Monday. Because water remains a constant 72 degrees, the Blue Hole, located in Ichetucknee Springs State Park, is a draw for both snorkelers and manatees looking for a warm haven in the winter.
Environmentalists were outraged. Before the service said the word was likely written in algae, some said the animal was “tortured” and “mutilated,” and called for swift action to find and arrest the perpetrators.
The Center for Biological Diversity is offering a $5,000 reward for information that can lead to the conviction of the people responsible, the advocacy group said Monday.
“It’s heartbreaking that this manatee was subjected to this vile, criminal act,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the center. “It’s clear that whoever harmed this defenseless, gentle giant is capable of doing grave violence and needs to be apprehended immediately.”
Defenders of Wildlife said in a statement the incident was “beyond cruel and inhumane.”
“I’m disgusted that someone would harm a defenseless creature to send what I can only assume is a political message,” said Elizabeth Fleming, senior Florida representative at the organization. “We will do everything in our power to help find, arrest and successfully prosecute this coward.”
Manatees are protected under federal law, which makes it illegal to harass, hunt, capture or kill the marine mammals. The manatee is also protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978, which states: “It is unlawful for any person, at any time, intentionally or negligently, to annoy, molest, harass, or disturb any manatee.”
Anyone convicted of violating this state law faces a possible maximum fine of $500 and/or imprisonment for up to 60 days. Conviction on the federal level is punishable by fines of up to $50,000 and as much as one year in prison.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is asking anyone with information about the case to call its hotline at 1-888-404-3922 or the USFWS wildlife crime tips hotline at 1-844-397-8477 or email at FWS_TIPS@FWS.GOV.
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