Florida resident Ryan William Waterman, 21, faces charges stemming from “molesting a manatee,” due to the state's protection laws that make interacting with the endangered species illegal.
The Fort Pierce man published photos this week of himself and two children playing with a manatee calf laying near a shoreline, according to NBC affiliate WPTV. One image even features a child sitting on top of the animal.
Manatee biologist Dr. Thomas Reinert told the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) that the animal appeared to be suffering from cold-stress syndrome, which can kill a manatee. "Taking the calf out of water may have worsened its situation," he said, according to an advisory.
The agency said Monday that investigators obtained an arrest warrant for Waterman based upon the photos on his Facebook page, charging him with a second-degree misdemeanor.
“This investigation is an example of our commitment to carry out our mission to protect Florida’s natural resources and people through proactive and responsive law enforcement services,” FWC Lt. Chris Harris said in prepared text. “It also demonstrates our efforts to work with federal partners, the general public and the State Attorney’s office to achieve this goal.”
While arrests for molesting a manatee are rare, Florida's law still swoops up offenders from time to time. A woman who was photographed last October attempting to ride a manatee turned herself in after authorities asked members of the public to come forward with any information about the individual pictured.
This video is from NBC affiliate WPTV 5, aired Monday, Feb. 18, 2013.