Federal officials are seeking information from the public after a manatee was discovered in Florida with a political message written on its back.
Video shows the manatee with the word “Trump” scrawled onto its skin.
Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said that the mammal was swimming in Blue Hole, in the Homosassa River, in Citrus County, Florida.
The Citrus County Chronicle reported that Florida officials are working with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service on the incident.
Senior federal wildlife officer Craig Cavanna told the Chronicle, “I cannot comment on a current, ongoing investigation.” He added that they are following leads in the case.
Cavanna added that harassment of a manatee is a Class A federal criminal offense and is punishable by a $50,000 fine and/or up to one year in federal prison, under the the Endangered Species Act.
The Center for Biological Diversity decried the incident and offered a $5,000 reward for information that led to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator.
“It’s heartbreaking that this manatee was subjected to this vile, criminal act,” the Center’s Florida director Jaclyn Lopez said in a statement on Monday.
“It’s clear that whoever harmed this defenseless, gentle giant is capable of doing grave violence and needs to be apprehended immediately,” she added.
It was not immediately clear how much harm was done to the manatee from the video. One expert at the University of Florida told Vice News that the injury would be “virtually non-existent” if the word was simply formed by scraping algae off the animal’s back.
On the other hand, Marine scientist Ruth Carmichael said that the incident could have been very injurious to the animal.
“It’s a little hard to see the extent of damage from the video,” Carmichael said to Vice. “It is harassment regardless. If the scrape penetrates the skin, then it likely caused some pain and stress. The animals have nerves and sensory hairs in the skin. Additionally, open wounds could become infected.”
Manatees were considered an endangered species until 2017 when that designation was lifted and downgraded to “threatened.”
Here’s a local news report about the mutilation:
Florida Manatee Mutilated By Someone Who Etched ‘Trump’ Onto Its Back