A 21 year-old Florida man, Ryan William Waterman, is facing a misdemeanor charge that could see him pay a $500 fine and face six months in jail. He was arrested by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission after being alerted to pictures on Facebook showing Waterman hugging a baby manatee.
According to the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act, it is illegal to molest, harass, or disturb manatees — a highly sensitive aquatic mammal that's endangered in Florida. Federal laws also protect the species.
The pictures, which were taken at Taylor Creek (near Fort Pierce in southeast Florida), showed Waterman partially removing the baby manatee from the water and hugging it. Other pics showed his two young daughters petting it — and even sitting on it.
Waterman, who was released from the St. Lucie County Jail on $2,500 bond, told a local television station that he meant no harm and did not know it was illegal to touch a manatee.
Waterman's actions could have induced severe stress in the young calf. And according to manatee biologist Thomas Reinert, "The calf also appeared to be experiencing manatee cold-stress syndrome, a condition that can lead to death in extreme cases. Taking the calf out of the water may have worsened its situation."