CITRUS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials say they are investigating after the word “Trump” was found scraped into the back of a manatee in Citrus County.
The manatee was discovered in Homosassa Springs on Sunday by a diver named Hailey Warrington. She said she was sickened and disturbed by what she saw.
“The first thing that went through my mind is who would do it? Who would do something like that?” Warrington said. “I mean, this is an animal that Citrus County itself has protected and educated people on for years and years and years.”
Warrington knows the water well, as both an environmental specialist and a captain who takes tourists and locals on tours to see manatees safely and responsibly from a distance.
“I call them floating potatoes because that’s really all they [are,] I mean they’re as docile as a rock,” she said. “You can’t see a manatee ever be aggressive…they’re like little puppy dogs.”
Warrington told WFLA she believes the scrape marks were most likely made with fingernails.
“They scraped across it and down to create the letters and eventually they hit the skin,” she explained. “There was no superficial wounds from what I saw.”
Warrington said she reported what she saw to state and federal wildlife officials right away. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Florida’s Fish and Wildlife immediately launched an investigation.
Manatees are protected under the Endangered Species Act and under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, as well as the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act. Anyone convicted of violating the law on the federal level is subject to a $50,000 fine and up to a year in prison.
Federal officials said the manatee spotted by Warrington is a subspecies of the West Indian manatee.
The Center for Biological Diversity announced Monday it was offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest for the “cruel and illegal mutilation.”
“It’s heartbreaking that this manatee was subjected to this vile, criminal act,” the center’s Florida Director Jaclyn Lopez said. “It’s clear that whoever harmed this defenseless, gentle giant is capable of doing grave violence and needs to be apprehended immediately.”
Anyone with information can call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation hotline at (888) 404-3922.
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