This week, the United States Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) launched an investigation to identify all parties involved in the harassment of a manatee found with the word “Trump” scraped onto the algae on the animal’s back. Local media outlet Citrus County Chronicle first reported that the manatee was spotted on Sunday, swimming in the Blue Hole headwaters of the Homosassa River in North Florida. The USFWS currently classifies manatees as a “threatened” species, which it downgraded from “endangered” in 2017. The animals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act (which also protects threatened species and critical habitats) and harassing them can result in a fine of up to $50,000 and one year imprisonment. 

“This abhorrent action goes beyond the bounds of what is considered cruel and inhumane,” Elizabeth Fleming, a senior Florida representative from non-profit animal protection organization Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement. “I’m disgusted that someone would harm a defenseless creature to send what I can only assume is a political message. We will do everything in our power to help find, arrest, and successfully prosecute this coward.” 

The USFWS is urging the public to call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation hotline at 888-404-3922 with any information about the individual(s) involved in the harassment of this manatee. The Center for Biological Diversity is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the person(s) responsible for this crime. 

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