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Federal and State Conservation Agencies Investigate Manatee Harassment in Hernando County



March 14, 2000

Contact: Chuck Underwood 904/232-2580 X109Tom MacKenzie 404/ 679-7291

Tom MacKenzie 404/ 679-7291


The Hernando County Sheriff's Office, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Special Agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Law Enforcement Office have been investigating several reports of severe manatee harassment in Hernando County, Fla.

These incidents allegedly involve juvenile white males either straddling or riding the manatees in the area of Hernando Beach Park off Shoal Line Road. The reports indicate the juveniles use a rope which is first passed under the animal then used like a bridle when they attempt to sit or stand on the animal's back.

The West Indian manatee, commonly referred to as the Florida manatee, is a protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 (Title 16 USC Section 1538) and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act (370.12(2)(d) F.S.). Under this ESA it is unlawful for any person to "take" an endangered species. The term "take" includes harassment which is defined as an intentional or negligent act or omission which creates the likelihood of injury to wildlife by annoying it to such an extent as to significantly disrupt its normal behavior patterns. These patterns include, but are not limited to, breeding, feeding or sheltering.

Along with other prohibitions, the Florida law stipulates that, except by terms of a valid state or federal permit, it is unlawful for any person at any time by any means, or in any manner intentionally or negligently to annoy, molest, harass, or disturb or attempt to annoy, molest, harass, or disturb any manatee. Under federal law, violators face fines of up to $100,000 and/or up to a year in a federal prison, or both, in criminal prosecutions, and under civil penalties they face fines of up to $25,000. Violations under the Florida statute are second degree misdemeanors carrying up to 60 days in a county jail and a fine of $500.

Manatees are extremely sensitive to cold and they congregate in the springs at the beach park, Jenkins Creek and Rogers Park in Hernando County due to the warmer spring-fed waters of these areas. Harassment is likely to drive these animals from these havens into unsheltered areas of the gulf where they may die from exposure to colder temperatures. Extreme harassment, such as these incidents, can also cause physical injury or cause the animal to go into shock from the extreme stress these incidents cause. The ESA provisions stipulate a reward may be given to any person who furnishes information which leads to an arrest, criminal conviction, civil penalty, or forfeiture of property for any ESA violation.

Anyone with information concerning this harassment or these incidents, should avoid contact with the violators, and immediately call the Hernando County Sheriff's Office at (352) 754-6830, your local Sherrif's office, or the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Marine Enforcement at 1-800-DIAL-FMP -- (800)342-5367. It is important to report the information as quickly as possible to increase the possibility that violators will be on scene when authorities arrive.

For more information on the Florida manatee visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service=s web site at: http://endangered.fws.gov/i/a0c.html. You can also find out more about the Fish and Wildlife Service and Endangered Species at: http://www.fws.gov.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 520 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state wildlife agencies.

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