Video shows Tampa boat captain scraping manatee with fishing pole, and the internet isn’t pleased

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating. David Beede of Shallow Point Fishing Charters is getting death threats.
Drone video posted by See Through Canoe shows David Beede of Shallow Point Fishing Charters scraping a manatee's back with a fishing pole.
Drone video posted by See Through Canoe shows David Beede of Shallow Point Fishing Charters scraping a manatee's back with a fishing pole. [ See Through Canoes ]
Published Feb. 26, 2020|Updated Feb. 26, 2020

The internet was aflame this week with comments criticizing a Tampa charter boat captain after drone video surfaced showing him scrape a manatee’s back with a fishing pole while taking clients to fish near Weedon Island.

The internet onslaught has been so bad, David Beede said, he’s now getting death threats. Beede told the Tampa Bay Times he thought he was helping the manatee. The video, he said, doesn’t show the whole story.

“I thought I was helping,” Beede told the Times in a phone interview. “Now I’m hearing people saying death threats."

Edited video captured by a drone last week was originally taken by and posted to the Facebook page of See Through Canoe, a local watercraft manufacturer, on Sunday. The 39-second video begins over top of the 26-foot center console boat Beede uses for his company, Shallow Point Fishing Charters, as the boat approaches an aggregation of manatees. A few seconds in, the video cuts to show Beede, seen in a red jacket, standing with four other people at the bow of the boat, its engine off, as more than a dozen manatees surround it.

Additional details about the boat that drove through the manatees and poked them

Additional details about the boat that drove through the manatees and poked them. From the drone operator: I've been fishing and spending countless days on the water all over Florida since about 1975. I did not take any pleasure at all in reporting a fisherman even though he tried to crash my drone. I'm not happy about being put in this situation. On the other hand, I won't turn my back when I see an animal being "messed with". A number of fishermen messaged us on Facebook and seemed eager to provide the name of the captain that appears in the video. The captain stated in a recent interview, "We pull up, I didn't really see all the manatees to be honest with you." There is additional video beyond what has been shared. The boat that went through the manatees was anchored next to them for about 30 minutes before leaving and driving through the manatees. "All day long there was this buzzing sound above my head so there was a guy basically harassing me". Drone batteries for this particular drone only allow it to stay in the air for 27 minutes max. We had a total of 2 batteries. I was taking video of the large group of manatees and had no intention of filming the boat or its captain. To be direct, I don't like people enough to have any interest in spying on them or taking video of them. The only reason we ended up getting a video of the captain doing what he did is because for Some Reason, he drove right into the group of manatees as we were filming them. The FWC responded in less than a minute when they were originally sent the video. They seem to be 100 percent on top of the situation and don't appear to be wasting any time. Aside from the local FWC being involved in the investigation, federal FWC is also looking into the matter. The captain may be charged under federal laws. The FWC also requested a copy of the video that shows the captain appearing to try to crash the drone. They said there would probably be separate charges for that. The captain has stated that there was something on the manatee's back and that he was trying to help. I would expect someone that has been in this area for any length of time to know they should call FWC if they are concerned about an animal. I would especially expect a boat captain to know better. In addition to this, there were numerous manatees in the area with algae and/or barnacles on their bodies, it's very common. For the record, the See Through Canoe Company doesn't rent canoes or do tours, we make and ship our products all around the world. This has nothing to do with territory or "turf".

Posted by See Through Canoe on Wednesday, February 26, 2020

As the video zooms closer on the boat, manatees continue to swim around and under. About 20 seconds in, Beede grabs a fishing pole as one swims past, toward the boat’s stern. He rubs its back a few times with the pole, startling it and sending it diving below. A manatee on the opposite side of the boat flip its tail, splashing the boat as the entire aggregation flees.

Beede puts down the pole, turns to a man wearing a black jacket and bucket hat, taps him on the shoulder and gives him a high-five.

“There was an aggregate of manatees, and the clients said they want to see them,” Beede told the Times. “I said, ‘no problem.’ I turned off the engine and floated in. There was one that had a white spot, and I scraped it with a very weak fishing pole. It’s a trout fishing rod. ”

Beede said he saw what looked like a white tag on the manatee’s back about 6 to 9 inches long and thought it might’ve been a leech or worm.

“I’ve just honestly never seen anything like it, and I was most interested in what it was,” he said. “I reached out to see what it was, and that’s what happened.”

The Florida Manatee is classified as a threatened species and given federal protection under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and Endangered Species Act of 1973, which, according to the Fish and Wildlife website, “makes it illegal to harass, hunt, capture or kill any marine mammal.” It also receives protection locally under the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978. That act makes it illegal “for any person, at any time, intentionally or negligently, to annoy, molest, harass, or disturb any manatee."

See Through Canoe thinks Beede should’ve known better.

“He should have known that if he was concerned about a manatee, he should call FWC, pretty much everyone knows that,” the company wrote in a comment to the video post. “And a boat captain should definitely know that.”

Related: St. Petersburg woman accused of riding manatee arrested

While a few commenters came to Beede’s defense, most harshly criticized him, with many calling for his license or worse.

“Unfortunately, legality doesn’t stop soulless garbage from doing its thing,” Sydney Feldspar wrote. “It would require a sense of humility, empathy and honesty which these cretins do not possess.”

Beede said those judging him are hypocrites, even See Through Canoe, which also operates a company that rents kayaks in the same area where Beede touched the manatee.

Beede said manatee are often seen in the area, which he’s been taking charters to since starting Shallow Point in 2004. Kayakers and people hanging off docks, he said, often touch manatees with poles and paddles.

“Hundreds of boats and people are swimming with them everyday,” he said. “I’m not out there trying to hurt animals. This is not something that is me.”

Florida Fish and Wildlife confirmed that it is investigating the incident but couldn’t offer information as the investigation is ongoing.

Representatives from See Through Canoe did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Related: Clearwater lawyer who shooed raccoon off boat needs ‘professionalism workshop,’ Florida Bar says

It’s not the first time Florida wildlife has been the subject of widespread attention because of human involvement. In 2012, St. Petersburg woman Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez was arrested after she was photographed riding on a manatee’s back at Fort De Soto Beach. And last year, Clearwater attorney Thomas Cope found himself the subject of internet ire after video surfaced of him shooing a raccoon off a boat in open water.