The animal was found swimming in Homosassa Springs – about 80 miles north of Tampa. Boat captain Hailey Warrington shared footage of the manatee with “TRUMP” visibly dug into the layer of algae and grime on its back.
Warrington told WTVT, The Fox-owned TV station in Tampa, she had been leading a boat tour on Sunday when she spotted the manatee. She said she recognized the manatee by the propeller scars.
“It was an uncharacteristic thing for us to see,” Warrington said in reference to the “TRUMP” scrawling. “I was surprised when I saw it.”
The animal’s skin was exposed but did not appear wounded. It did, however, appear more skittish than usual, Warrington said.
“It did seem that the animal was very upset,” Warrington told the station.
Manatees are known for flocking to Florida’s west coast around this time of year for the state’s warm weather. It is not uncommon to see hundreds of manatees swimming in Homosassa Springs and Crystal River.
Under the Endangered Species Act, harassing a manatee constitutes a federal offense, punishable by a $50,000 fine and up to one year in prison.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has opened an investigation. The agency is asking anyone with information on the matter to call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-3922.
The Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit group that protects endangered animals, is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in the case.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.