FORT PIERCE, Fla. -- A Fort Pierce man was arrested Sunday after posting Facebook photos of himself and two young children petting and holding a manatee calf, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
The FWC filed charges against Ryan William Waterman, 21, with the State Attorney's Office regarding a violation of the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act after receiving tips from a citizen who saw photos of the incident on Facebook.
The act makes it a second-degree misdemeanor to intentionally "molest, harass, or disturb" any manatee.
According to FWC investigators, Waterman approached the manatee calf in Taylor Creek in St. Lucie County in January. Manatees are classified as an endangered species in Florida.
The pictures show a man the FWC identified as Waterman with two young children petting a manatee calf. They also show Waterman lifting the calf partially out of the water. One image even shows a child sitting on top of the manatee.
The State Attorney agreed with the charges filed by FWC investigators and a warrant was issued for Waterman's arrest.
"An interaction that may seem harmless and innocent may ultimately have serious consequences for manatees and other wildlife," FWC officials said in a release.
"This was a young manatee which was likely still dependent on its mother for food and protection," said FWC manatee biologist Dr. Thomas Reinert in a release. "Separating the two could have severe consequences for the calf."
Waterman was charged with one count of harassing or disturbing a manatee. He was booked into the St. Lucie County Jail Sunday at 1:10 p.m.
In October, authorities in Pinellas County arrested a woman shown in photographs taking a joyride on a manatee.
The FWC asks anyone who witnesses manatee harassment or finds a dead or distressed manatee to call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC.