Politically-Charged Harassment Case Shows Disrespect for Imperiled Manatee
Released: January 12, 2021
Yesterday, images of a manatee in Florida’s Homosassa River with the word “Trump” scratched into its back went viral. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service began an investigation into this incident of illegal manatee harassment. Save the Manatee Club was immediately made aware of the situation and is appalled at this disrespectful, harmful act toward an imperiled species.
Based on the photos and videos available, it appears that the perpetrator may have scratched the manatee’s skin with their fingers, scraping the algae that grows on the slow-moving mammals. They may have scraped the top layer of the manatee’s skin as well. Manatees have tough but sensitive skin, covered with tiny, sensory hairs, so it’s possible that this action may have caused the manatee discomfort or pain.
According to federal and state laws, “harassment” of a manatee includes any act that potentially injures, annoys, or disturbs the animal, or causes a disruption of its natural behavior. Handling a manatee long enough to scrape five large letters into its back certainly falls under a disruption of natural behavior. It is clear that the offender handled the wild manatee and prevented it from escaping.
The federal and state harassment laws are in place with the manatees’ best interest in mind. Manatees, like other wild animals, naturally have a healthy fear of people. Sadly, many have become more accustomed to people touching, petting, and feeding them from in the water or their boats, especially in the Homosassa River and Crystal River areas.
Manatees “tamed” by touch and handouts may associate people and boats with rewards, only to be harassed by irresponsible swimmers, forced away from warm waters they need to survive, or injured or killed by a boat propeller blade or hull impact. The manatee who had letters scraped into its back has had its behavior changed after being handled closely by humans and is now at greater risk for injury or death.
Watercraft collisions, marine debris entanglement, floodgate accidents, and loss or degradation of vital habitat are all common causes of manatee injury or mortality – causes that Save the Manatee Club works tirelessly to prevent. But harassment and human intervention is one cause that is entirely preventable by anyone who spends time around manatees. It’s simple: Don’t do it if you care about the health of manatees.
Vandalizing anything through graffiti to spread your message is distasteful enough, but doing so on an innocent, imperiled species that already suffers from numerous challenges in the wild is especially abhorrent.
Anyone with knowledge of the incident is encouraged to call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922). This hotline can also be used to report any future instances of manatee harassment or to report injured, sick, orphaned, entangled, or dead manatees. All Floridians are encouraged to save this number in their phone contacts, and boaters can request free decals with this number at savethemanatee.org/resources.