A man has been arrested after he posted pictures of himself playing with a manatee on Facebook.
The images show Ryan William Waterman crouching in the water and petting the calf in Florida’s Taylor Creek as two young children look on.
Another shot features the children sitting on the animal and a further snap sees Waterman lifting it out of the water.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the 21-year-old has violated the Florida Sanctuary Act, which makes it illegal to injure, harm, harass, capture or attempt to capture a Florida manatee. Violations are considered a second-degree misdemeanor.
An email statement from the FWC says: “An interaction that may seem harmless and innocent may ultimately have serious consequences for manatees and other wildlife.”
“This was a young manatee which was likely still dependant on its mother for food and protection,” said FWC manatee biologist Dr Thomas Reinert. “Separating the two could have severe consequences for the calf.”
“The calf also appeared to be experiencing manatee cold-stress syndrome, a condition that can lead to death in extreme cases,” said Reinert.
“Taking the calf out of the water may have worsened its situation.”
A second-degree misdemeanor for harming a manatee carries up to 60 days in jail and a $500 (£325) fine.
Manatees, which can grow up to 12 feet (3.7 meters) in length and weigh up to 1,800 pounds (818 kilograms), are an endangered species in Florida.