Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported they are opening an investigation after a manatee was discovered with severe scarring spelling “TRUMP” on its back in the Homosassa River in Citrus County, Florida. Since 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed manatees as “threatened."
UPDATE (1/13/21): Since responding to this story, new information indicates the word was etched into the layer of algae on the manatee’s back, not through scarring the skin as originally reported. Defenders of Wildlife is working to verify these facts. Please contact Jake Bleich for updated comment. Harassing a manatee is a state and federal crime that is punishable by fines up to $100,000 and/or one year in prison. Defenders is also offering a $1,500 reward for any information that leads to the conviction of the person responsible for this crime.
Elizabeth Fleming, senior Florida representative at Defenders of Wildlife, issued the following statement:
“This abhorrent action goes beyond the bounds of what is considered cruel and inhumane. I’m disgusted that someone would harm a defenseless creature to send what I can only assume is a political message. We will do everything in our power to help find, arrest and successfully prosecute this coward.”
Elizabeth Neville, senior Gulf Coast representative at Defenders of Wildlife, issued the following statement:
“This vile act violates the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and Florida’s Manatee Sanctuary Act. The word chosen to deface this manatee, however, highlights a broader and darker truth: that wildlife, despite having no ability to vote or otherwise participate in our political systems, exist and suffer profoundly at the mercy of human politics.
“Based on the choice of the word etched onto the manatee, one can only assume that this act was politically motivated. But, this is far from the only harm borne by manatees due to politicians’ destructive choices. Others include policies that favor unsustainable development and polluting industries, hamper communities’ abilities to address plastic trash in our waters and impede progress on fighting climate change.”
Ben Prater, Southeast program director at Defenders of Wildlife, issued the following statement:
“The Defenders team will continue to work as a voice for manatees and other Florida wildlife. This act of violence demonstrates that wildlife needs our protection more than ever.”
Defenders of Wildlife asks the public to direct any information about the mutilation of this manatee to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: 1-888-404-3922.