Federal authorities are investigating after a manatee in Florida was discovered with the word “TRUMP” scrawled onto its back.
A spokesperson for the US Fish and Wildlife Service told BuzzFeed News that the mammal did not appear to be “seriously injured,” saying that the word was evidently etched into the algae on top of its skin.
An underwater video shared with BuzzFeed News by Hailey Warrington, a boat captain for River Ventures and River Safaris, showed the markings on the manatee as it moved through the Homosassa Springs.
Warrington said she had heard someone spotted the manatee from the viewing pavilion at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park as she was leading a tour on Sunday and at first thought it was a joke.
Then she saw the manatee, whom she recognized as a regular in the springs from the notches in its tail and the barnacles on its skin, in the water.
“It kind of just made me angry,” Warrington told BuzzFeed News. “I just felt bad for the animal.”
Warrington, 25, who has worked in the area for five years leading people on guided tours swimming with manatees, said it was a highly “uncharacteristic” for a manatee to be harassed and harmed in this way.
“We have so many eyes on the water here that are professional,” she said. “We wouldn’t allow it if we saw it.”
While people can swim amongst the animals, they are not allowed to touch them and have to stay at least one body length away, Warrington explained, adding that manatees typically don’t stay still long enough for someone to write onto their backs.
Even though the animal didn’t look like it was wounded, Warrington said its behavior was completely different.
“This particular animal didn’t want us around it at all whether we stayed our distance or not,” she said.
Manatees, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act, are slow-moving herbivores with no natural predators. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, humans regularly pose a danger to the mammals, particularly with boat collisions.
The center is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
“Manatees aren’t billboards, and people shouldn’t be messing with these sensitive and imperiled animals for any reason,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the center. “However this political graffiti was put on this manatee, it’s a crime to interfere with these creatures, which are protected under multiple federal laws.”
Harming or harassing a manatee is a federal offense punishable by up to one year in prison and a $50,000 fine.
Anyone with information regarding the incident is asked to call the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s crime tips hotline at 1-844-397-8477 or email email@example.com.