A Florida family turned a trip to Taylor Creek in St. Lucie County into their own private petting zoo in January, authorities report, and then posted the incriminating photos online.
Florida Fish and Wildlife officials say they received a tip that Ryan William Waterman, 21, of Ft. Pierce, posted Facebook images of himself and two kids petting, lifting, and sitting on a manatee calf.
The State Attorney's Office issued a warrant for Waterman's arrest based on the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act, which makes it illegal to injure, harm, harass, capture or attempt to capture a Florida manatee.
“This was a young manatee which was likely still dependent on its mother for food and protection,” FWC manatee biologist Dr. Thomas Reinert said in a release. “Separating the two could have severe consequences for the calf.”
“The calf also appeared to be experiencing manatee cold-stress syndrome, a condition that can lead to death in extreme cases,” said Reinert. “Taking the calf out of the water may have worsened its situation.”
If convicted, Waterman faces $500 fine and a maximum 60 days in jail, FWC spokeswoman Katie Purcell told Palm Beach Post.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time a Floridian has mounted a sea cow.
In October, a St. Petersburg woman was photographed riding a manatee just off-shore and was arrested after she turned herself in to police.
The state has strict protection laws for the Florida manatee, which has been listed as an endangered species since 1967.
Yet the marine mammals are still very vulnerable. In the first five weeks of 2013, nearly a hundred manatees have already been found dead; of those, 11 died of human-related causes, 15 of cold stress, 37 of natural causes, and 25 deaths were undetermined.
HOW YOU CAN HELP: If you witness manatee harassment or find a dead or distressed manatee, call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922). Click below for the photos that led to Waterman's arrest: