NEAR CLEARWATER, Florida (TodayNews) — Touching a manatee is against the law, but that hasn’t stopped some people on a beach in Central Florida from touching the gentle giants.
Drone video of a group of manatees near Clearwater showed the moment some beach goers crossed the line illegally touching the endangered creatures.
“There were a lot of people who just had to touch them and chase them,” said Michael McCarthy.
In one part of the video, a massive manatee, which can weigh over 1,000 pounds, is seen nearly running over a man.
“It’s a bit surprising, but this kind of thing happens all the time,” said Marie Filipek, senior animal care specialist at the Tampa Zoo.
Filipek said people need to give manatees their space.
“They come closer to the shore, usually in a mating herd, so they try to breed a group of males and one female,” Filipek said. “So, definitely in this case, you want to give them their space and let nature do its thing. We don’t want to get involved in this. We want these animals to settle down as they are endangered, so we don’t want to get involved in that.”
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said any prosecution of manatees could result in fines of up to $100,000 and even jail time.
“However, they couldn’t go anywhere because the crowd followed them as they tried to move up or down the beach,” McCarthy said.
In recent years, the number of manatee deaths has been alarmingly high.
The FWC reported at least 800 deaths last year and a record 1,100 died in 2021.
If you see someone harassing manatees, you are strongly encouraged to call the wildlife alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC.
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