Two 22-year-old men who were seen in video posted on Facebook luring an jumping onto manatees pleaded guilty Thursday to harassing an endangered species, U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III announced.
Taylor Blake Martin, from Alabama, and Seth Andrew Stephenson, of Rockledge each face a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $50,000 fine. A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled.
According to court documents, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service became aware of a video posted on Facebook that showed one individual luring two manatees to a dock with a water hose, and another individual jumping off of a boat dock, “cannonballing” an adult manatee and a calf.
Further investigation revealed that Martin was the individual who “cannonballed” on top of the manatees. Stephenson was identified as the one who lured the manatees to the dock with the water hose. The video shows Martin landing on the back of the adult manatee as the manatees swim away. Stephenson then begins to use the water hose in an attempt to lure the manatees back as the video ends.
After the video was posted on Facebook, several people commented on it. In response to a post that expressed displeasure with Martin’s actions, Martin responded, “hahaha…in my debue [sic] as tayla the manatee slaya…im f---- ready to cannonball on every manatee living yewwww.”
"This case demonstrates our resolve to address the illegal harassment of Manatees, as well as the enforcement of speed zones, and other more serious forms of take which result in the death or injury of Florida's Endangered Manatees," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Luis Santiago.