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.
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.”
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.
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.