We love a good “Florida Man…” headline, but it turns out we hate writing headlines that start with “Florida Manatee…” This weekend, visitors to the Blue Hole Spring on Central Florida’s Homosassa River reported a manatee whose back had been vandalized. A video first reported by the Citrus County Chronicle shows the large marine mammal with the name of the outgoing U.S. president scraped into the algae coating along the length of its back. Investigators from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission are seeking information on the crime.
The Florida or West Indian manatee is protected under both the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The lead investigating officer in the case, Craig Cavanna, said this animal harassment is a Class A federal crime that could earn the culprit up to a year in prison and/or a $50,000 fine.
“It’s been my experience that this is very out of character for this community,” Cavanna, told the Chronicle. “Wildlife conservation is a core value in Citrus County. That’s why it’s called the Nature Coast.”
Manatees migrate seasonally into warmwater refuges like the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park where this event occurred, making them highly visible to viewers, swimmers, and kayakers. These mammals can live more than 50 years, grow to 15 feet in length, and stretch beyond 3,000 pounds. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recently downgraded manatees from “endangered” to “threatened” thanks to growing populations, but the animals remain vulnerable to boat collisions and the toxic algal blooms that have pervaded the Florida Coast in recent years, as we reported in this article. A record number—at least 104 manatees—were killed by boats in 2016. Two hundred and forty-one died from the red tide bloom in 2012.
Algae and barnacles grow prodigiously on manatees’ skin. Some researchers believe this coating may help protect the animals from the sun’s UV rays, infection, and other issues, much like fishes’ slime layer. Despite some reports that the culprit actually carved the manatee’s skin, it appears the damage was mostly superficial.
At MeatEater we hold wild animals and wild places as sacred. We believe that carving words in trees and painting rocks in wild, public places degrades the outdoors experience for others. Vandalism on the animals themselves is nothing short of nauseating. If you or anyone you know has information on this event, please call the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission at 888-404-3922 immediately.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.