ORLANDO -- Two men who previously pleaded guilty to harassing manatees, an endangered species, have been sentenced by a federal magistrate judge.
The United States Attorney's Office announced Wednesday that Taylor Martin, 22, and Seth Stephenson, 22, were both sentenced in relation to harassing an endangered species.
According to court documents, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service became aware of a video posted on Facebook that showed one individual luring two manatees to a dock with a water hose and another individual jump off of a boat dock and “cannonball” an adult manatee and a calf.
Further investigation revealed that Martin was the person who “cannonballed” on top of the manatees and Stephenson lured the manatees to the dock with the water hose. The video shows Martin land on the back of the adult manatee as the manatees swim away.
Stephenson then begins to use the water hose in an attempt to lure the manatees back as the video ends.
After the video was posted on Facebook, several people commented on it. In response to a post that expressed displeasure with Martin’s actions, Martin responded, “hahaha…in my debue [sic\ as tayla the manatee slaya…im f---- ready to cannonball on every manatee living yewwww.”
The court ordered Martin to pay a $3,000 fine, with 175 hours of community service and two years probation. Stephenson was ordered to pay a fine of $2,000, with the same 175 hours of community service and two years probation.
The court also ordered both Martin and Stevenson to individually post an apology and a statement of remorse on Facebook.
“There’s absolutely no excuse for this type of reckless behavior with any wildlife species, but particularly those that are endangered,” said Ken Warren, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson. “We hope these sentences serve as a reminder of that and as a deterrent to anyone thinking of harassing or bothering, in any way, manatees or any type of wildlife,”
"This case demonstrates our resolve to address the illegal harassment of Manatees, as well as the enforcement of speed zones, and other more serious forms of take which result in the death or injury of Florida's Endangered Manatees," said Special Agent Luis Santiago, Southeast Region, Office of Law Enforcement, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Manatees are protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. They are found in marine, estuarine and freshwater environments.