Two Men Sentenced For Harassing Manatees
Orlando, Florida – United States Attorney A. Lee Bentley, III announces that Taylor Blake Martin (22, Alabama) and Seth Andrew Stephenson (22, Rockledge) were sentenced today by U.S. Magistrate Judge Gregory J. Kelly. Martin and Stephenson previously pleaded guilty to harassing an endangered species.
Judge Kelly ordered Martin to pay a $3,000 fine, and sentenced him to 175 hours of community service, and 2 years’ probation. Stephenson was ordered to pay a $2,000 fine, and was sentenced to 175 hours of community service, and 2 years’ probation. Martin and Stephenson were also ordered to individually post an apology and a statement of remorse on Facebook.
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 U.S. Magistrate Judge sent a clear message with this sentence that Manatee Harassment is a serious crime which will be dealt with harshly. If there had been evidence of physical damage to the Manatees he would have put them in jail," said Andrew Aloise Resident Agent in Charge for the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
“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.”
Manatees are protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. They are found in marine, estuarine and freshwater environments.
This case was investigated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Shawn P. Napier.