Waterman faces charges under the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act, which makes it illegal to molest, harass or disturb manatees, classified as an endangered species in the state. His offense also violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which makes it illegal to hunt or get up close to manatees as well as all other marine mammals, such as whales, seals and walruses.
These laws, however, have not prevented some recent close encounters in Florida, perhaps due to a lack of awareness. (Waterman, in fact, told local television station WPEC-TV that he meant no harm and didn't know it was illegal to touch a manatee.)
In December, a woman snapped pictures at Pompano Beach, on Florida's Atlantic coast, of swimmers who might have been trying to ride a sickly sperm whale. The 35-foot (10.6-meter)-long creature was reported to be flapping its tail at the time of the incident and eventually washed ashore dead.
And last October, a woman turned herself in after photos surfaced showing her riding a manatee at Florida's Fort DeSoto Park near Tampa. At the time, reports suggested she could have faced up to 60 days in jail and a possible fine of $500 for her crime.