“I’ve always wanted to kill a manatee”.
That statement was among the first comments on the photo of a manatee stranded in Tampa Bay as Hurricane Irma sucked water out of that vast ecosystem.
It would be easy to pass that off as a typical Internet idiot stirring trouble but when you look at the profile and see it was an adult male who made the comment and followed up with other disturbing quotes you see something is very wrong here.
This was not a non-indigenous feral hog that displaces native wildlife or a game animal like a whitetail deer or wild turkey that are hunted and eaten by licensed hunters. It was a manatee-a gentle giant of the seagrass flats.
It was a manatee-a highly protected species.
The “kill the manatee” comments (and others like it circulating on the Web) are reminiscent of the dolphin shooting I covered in Texas in 2015.
Two teenage boys actually shot a dolphin, one that was disillusioned after wandering into freshwater nonetheless with a fishing arrow.
That killing probably made some of the people I dealt with in the Texas flounder regulation debate back in 2008 happy.
This is an actual regulatory suggestion I got from someone and my reply.
“They are always out there in the passes flipping those flounder out of the water and eating them. The dolphins are getting more populous and they eat more flounder than we ever kill, so we should enact some dolphin population control.”
“So, you’re saying we should shoot Flipper to save the flounder?,” I asked.
“Yes, pretty much.”
Somehow the idea of setting up dolphin sharpshooters in our bays and passes did not seem like it would fly with not only the public but wildlife managers.
“Come to the Texas coast where we blew away 500 dolphins last year!”
Not exactly good Chamber of Commerce material, is it?
Soon however, the tide turned away from dolphin eradication to redfish annihilation
“There are just too many redfish. They are eating all of the baby flounder. That is why flounder numbers are down.”
This is reminiscent of the late 1990s when commercial fishermen in Louisiana tried to get gill and strike nets legalized for redfish once again because the reds were “wiping out the crabs.”
A decline in blue crab numbers could not possibly have been related to the insane number of crab traps set in Bayou State waters but had to have been redfish, which as far as we know have been co-existing with crabs forever.
At the end of the day those who kill protected animals (or fantasize about doing so) do it because they want to.
They choose to do so.
But I wonder what contributing factors are at play.
Is it a rural version of the mall fights and other random violence we have seen in larger cities or some kind of other pent up anger?
Is it the hardened stance against anything labeled “green” or “environmental” or “endangered” that is pervasive in sectors of the hunting community?
I can’t tell you how many people have told me jokes about spotted owl and whooping crane gumbo I have been told over the years.
There is probably no way to tell but it needs to stop and a true respect for all wildlife needs to be front and center.
We need as a community of outdoors lovers to rebuild the platform by which we teach conservation to the young and instill pride in the fact that we have incredible wildlife resources here and that taking beyond what the law offers depletes them.
We need to use these shameful moments as teachable ones and talk about consequence.
I have swam with manatees in the Crystal River in Florida three times and they were some of the most amazing experiences of my life.
I also grew up deer, duck and hog hunting.
Yet somehow I have never wanted to kill a manatee or a bald eagle or a dolphin.
It is because I was brought up to respect the resource and only take what I could eat. The idea of someone chuckling at the plight of a manatee sickens me.
Part of it is because I love these great animals but even more so I am troubled over a public where comments like that end up turning to actions like the aforementioned dolphin shot by Texas teens.
We have to move forward with conservation and a deep respect for wildlife and shame those who want to destroy it.
Wise stewardship should be celebrated whether its enacted by Ducks Unlimited or the Save the Manatee group.
Wildlife needs our help and thankfully the stranded manatee got it.
The keyboard warrior who wanted to kill one was probably too busy surfing the Web in his mother’s basement, living the kind of pathetic life trolls live.
In this case, the manatee won.
Chester Moore, Jr.