Wildlife investigators are considering charges against two Cocoa Beach men after a video surfaced online of one man jumping onto a manatee and her calf, WKMG-TV in Orlando reported Tuesday.
The Facebook video first posted more than a year ago was reposted to Facebook on Monday, catching the eye of state fish and wildlife officers.
The amateur video shows the men apparently luring in the manatees before one leaps off a dock on a canal in Cocoa Beach.
“I’m going to do it. I’m gonna do it,” one man tells the others.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Officer Lenny Salberg said FWC’s Internet crimes unit immediately tracked the video after seeing it Monday. He said it was filmed in Cocoa Beach, and two men in the video have been identified. A third adult, who is out of state, will also be questioned for his alleged involvement in the video.
“It’s sad,” Salberg said. “You could see they were targeting them. They were trying to lure (the manatees) in by spraying the water, and they were cannonballing right onto them.”
Investigators with FWC and U.S. Fish and Wildlife are reviewing the video to see if charges can be filed and what the appropriate charges may be. Manatees are protected under the Endangered Species Act, as well as state laws.
“The charges are molesting of a manatee,” Salberg said. “At a state level is a second-degree misdemeanor, which the fines are up to $500 or six months in jail. It’s a criminal offense.”
Any federal charges could result in fines up to $50,000.
Salberg said investigators are also reviewing the statute of limitations, which could prevent them from charging the men.
He said many manatee deaths are caused by blunt force trauma, for example, after being hit by a boat or jet ski. That could have been the case here, had one of the manatees suffered a direct hit.
“It’s no different than jumping on a human’s back,” Salberg said.