ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – A video that shows a Florida boat captain harassing a large group of manatees is causing outrage and has sparked an investigation by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
In the 39-second edited drone video posted to Twitter by See Through Canoe, a Florida watercraft manufacturer, on Sunday, a boat can be seen motoring through the group of manatees. A few seconds later a man on the boat pokes one of the manatees with a fishing rod, setting off a chain reaction that causes the group of at least 20 manatees to scatter. The man then high-fives another person on the boat.
After noticing the drone flying above the boat, the man then tries to snag the drone with a fishing hook, video shows.
#Boat captain drives through group of #manatees, then physically harasses one, scares it, & causes a stampede in the #manatee aggregation.— See Through Canoe (@SeeThroughCanoe) February 23, 2020
Then he left the wheel again to try to snag the drone that took this footage with his fishing pole. #CaptainJerk #nature #florida #fwc pic.twitter.com/4Ko3yaGKmQ
FWC spokeswoman Karen Parker told News4Jax on Wednesday it is investigating the incident, but did not say when or where the video was recorded. Parker said more information would be released at a later date.
According to a report from the Tampa Bay Times, the video was recorded near Weedon Island in St. Petersburg and the man involved is charter boat captain David Beede.
“There was an aggregate of manatees, and the clients said they want to see them,” Beede told the Times. “I said, ‘no problem.’ I turned off the engine and floated in. There was one that had a white spot, and I scraped it with a very weak fishing pole. It’s a trout fishing rod."
Beede, who said he’s been getting death threats, told the Times he thought he was helping the manatee and that the video doesn’t show the whole story.
Manatees are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978. It is illegal to feed, harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, annoy or molest manatees.
Anyone convicted of violating state law faces maximum fines of $500 and/or imprisonment of up to 60 days. A conviction for violating federal protection laws is punishable by fines up to $100,000 and/or one year in prison.
Parker said as temperatures rise, manatees are more likely to be traveling through Florida’s waterways as they leave their warm-water refuges which will cause more human interactions.
The FWC encourages the public to report potential wildlife violations by calling the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922. Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward.