US wildlife authorities have launched an investigation after a manatee was discovered with the word ‘Trump’ scraped on its back.
The marine mammal was spotted on Sunday in Florida’s Homosassa River, with the US president’s surname on its body.
Officials told AP news agency that the animal does not appear to be seriously injured, and the word was scraped onto algae growing on its skin.
But a video of the West Indian manatee has led to public outcry.
Manatees, nicknamed “sea cows,” are protected under US law, and anyone found guilty of harassing them faces up to a year in prison and a $50,000 (£37,000) fine.
Images of the animal was first shared by the Citrus County Chronical, a local newspaper, and have been widely shared on social media.
Investigations into the incident are being led by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
The Centre for Biological Diversity, a conservation charity, is also offering a $5,000 for information leading to the conviction of those responsible.
“It’s heartbreaking that this manatee was subjected to this vile, criminal act,” said Jaclyn Lopez, the centre’s director, in a statement to local media.
“It’s clear that whoever harmed this defenceless, gentle giant is capable of doing grave violence and needs to be apprehended immediately,” she added.
The manatee is a large, slow-moving mammal which has become an unofficial mascot for Florida. There are around 6,300 currently in the state, according to the USFWS.
They typically gather in warmer waters around the state during the winter time as temperatures drop.
However their numbers have fallen in recent years due to habitat loss, algae blooms and strikes by fast-moving boats.
They are also vulnerable to attacks by humans while they congregate in the shallow water of local rivers and canals.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 637 manatees died in 2020, 90 of which were victims of boat collisions. Another 15 were killed by other interactions with humans.