The discovery of a Florida manatee with the word Trump scraped into its side has sparked an investigation on who might have deliberately harassed the animal for a dumb political message.
The manatee was spotted in north Florida’s Homossa River and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement that the word TRUMP was scratched into algae on the animal’s back.
The animal did not appear to be in distress.
A $5,000 reward has been offered by The Center for Biological Diversity based in St. Petersburg, Florida.
“Manatees aren’t billboards, and people shouldn’t be messing with these sensitive and imperiled animals for any reason,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center. “However this political graffiti was put on this manatee, it’s a crime to interfere with these creatures, which are protected under multiple federal laws.”
Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission began investigating after the manatee was discovered Sunday. Anyone with information can call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation hotline at (888) 404-3922.
Protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1963, manatees are slow-moving plant eaters with no natural enemies. Most years boat mortality makes up about 20% of known human-caused deaths.
Harassment of a manatee is a federal criminal offense punishable by a $50,000 fine and up to one year in prison.
In an article and photo posted by the Citrus Chronicle, the senior federal wildlife officer Craig Cavanna confirmed there is an investigation going on.
“I cannot comment on a current, ongoing investigation,” Cavanna said. “It’s been my experience that this is very out of character for this community.”
“Wildlife conservation is a core value in Citrus County. That’s why it’s called the Nature Coast.”
The seasonal influx of the West Indian manatee is well known along the Nature Coast. The slow-moving, warm-blooded mammals seek sanctuary in the spring-fed waters along Citrus County’s coastline making them accessible to swimmers and boaters. Laws protect the animals from harassment by swimmers and those operating vessels.
Cavanna, the wildlife investigator, said there are a number of leads officials are following.