I am sure many of you have seen/read with a painful heart the report of a Florida Manatee discovered with scarring on its body which spells the word, the name “Trump”. Personally, I find it challenging to muster the right words to describe this cynical act, no matter what was etched into this defenseless animal. I do not want to go into the political realm of this act, as I feel it speaks great lengths for itself in a number of ways. But, I feel it is actually important to set aside the political references of this situation (that is in reference to Trump’s presidency) and focus on what this act alone, this attack, on wildlife itself shows.
The Florida Manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris) is a subspecies of the West Indian Manatee. These creatures are notorious for their peaceful, even mystical presence and a lazy but playful demeanor. Historically, manatees are understood to show little to no aggression; the most harm a manatee could inflict on a human would be a subtle body bump if you came too close to their baby. Manatees are found in shallow waters near shore in eelgrass beds where they graze on the aquatic vegetation. As an average 10 foot, 1,000 pound mammal in these shallow waters, human interaction is inevitable. Manatees often become victims to watercraft collisions which result in lasting injury and even death. Protected areas and required speed limits in such areas work to provide a “shelter” for these creatures, but this only provides fragments of safety and as with most ocean policies, regulations such as this are faced with enforcement issues. This species is also protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act as well as the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978 which states “it is unlawful for any person, at any time, intentionally or negligently, to annoy, molest, harass, or disturb any manatee”. This “graffitiing” of a vulnerable species is not only unlawful and tragically disgusting, but it symbolizes a moral dissonance with wildlife which plagues modern society.
This act should disgust you, but it should not surprise you. Overall, modern human society holds a narcissistic attitude towards our place in the animal kingdom, and many take it to the extreme of abuse to creatures as a form of entertainment or ultimately a demonstration of human dominance. There are too many instances such as this which have gone unnoticed, inflicting pain and suffering to one individual who contributes to the continuance of a whole population. But this does not just involve direct, intentional acts such as the case with the Florida Manatee, it also includes pollution and coastal development. Marine and terrestrial debris leads to the suffering and death of millions of animals each year who become entangled or ingest human made materials. Manatees, along with other marine species, are losing vital habitats they depend on for food, shelter, and places to nurse young as a result of habitat destruction for human development on the coast. Just as an ill-intentioned individual or group of individuals left a lasting mark on this peaceful marine mammal, we as a human race are leaving our own mark as seen by dwindling populations of species because of our own indulgences and guilty pleasures.
This engraving into a vulnerable mammal symbolizes this narcissism. If the perpetrator is caught, they will be fined and possibly face a short jail sentence, but that will not change the attitude which infects and has led them to carry out this act, the root of it all. The root which reaches so many in our society and fuels our own self interests at the expense of those we share the Earth. If we are to see a “brighter future” as most say, one without news reports like this, a change in attitude is necessary. – Clare Dana