One day of fishing, 30 days in prison

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A MySpace video leads authorities to two Florida men who intentionally hooked a manatee

A MySpace video leads authorities to two Florida men who intentionally hooked a manatee

Two Florida men were sent to jail for intentionally hooking a manatee while fishing in a canal near Fort Lauderdale last year. It was an easy catch for Florida wildlife authorities.

The men — Karl F. Kuhn III, 19, and Charles V. Podesta Jr., 20, both of Hollywood, Fla. — videotaped their illegal fishing outing and posted it on MySpace.com. The manatee is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which makes it illegal to harass, hunt, capture or kill any marine mammal.

Podesta was sentenced to 30 days in federal prison, followed by 30 days of home confinement, subject to electronic monitoring, according to the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida. In addition, he will be required to serve a one-year term of supervised release, perform 100 hours of community service, and post to his MySpace site a public apology for his conduct. Kuhn received a term of 15 days in prison, a one-year term of supervised release, and also will be required to perform 100 hours of community service.

The six-minute video — removed from MySpace in March 2007 — shows Podesta urging Kuhn to catch the manatee using grass and leaves for bait. Podesta asks Kuhn what he is fishing for as the video starts. “Trying to catch a sea cow,” he answers. Kuhn, holding a spinning rod, tries to catch the manatee during the first 3 minutes and 49 seconds of the clip.

Podesta first tells Kuhn to put more leaves on the hook and then suggests that he snag the mammal. “Let [the hook and bait] sink on the side of him and f---ing snag him.” Once hooked, the manatee swims down the canal. The sound of fishing line being pulled from the reel can be heard. “Karl got a manatee,” says Podesta between bouts of hysterical laughter. He then tells Kuhn to “put more pressure on him” and “put a harder angle on him.” He also tells Kuhn to go to the walking bridge farther down the canal to continue the fight. After roughly two minutes with the manatee, Kuhn appears to hold the reel so the mammal cannot take more line, which eventually breaks.

Ironically, Podesta and Kuhn both worked as sales associates for a Bass Pro Shops store in Dania Beach, Fla. Bass Pro Shops, the sports equipment and outdoor recreation goods chain, is known for its selection of hunting, fishing and other outdoor gear. Kuhn is wearing a Bass Pro Shops T-shirt in the video, and at the end of the clip Podesta assesses the condition of the line as Kuhn retrieves it. “That sounds roasted,” says Podesta. “You gotta return that to Bass Pro Shops tomorrow.” Both men lost their jobs as a result of their actions.

Larry Whitley, manager of corporate public relations for Bass Pro Shops, says the episode “flies in the face of what Bass Pro Shops is all about.”

“If you go through our history you know we are stewards of the environment,” he says. “We certainly do not condone this type of disrespect for marine species.”

The Save the Manatee Club views the incident as despicable but also as an opportunity to increase public awareness — especially among young adults — about the importance of respecting marine animals. “I don’t know why they did what they did,” says president Patrick Rose. “That age group feels it’s invincible. It’s important to let others know it is wrong. It seems silly to even have to tell people it is wrong, but that’s the reality we’re dealing with.”

Rose became aware of the video after a club member stumbled on it last summer and contacted him. Rose immediately drafted a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Miami.

“This act of harassment is totally unacceptable, and these individuals need to be held accountable for their callous, illegal actions,” wrote Rose. “Intentionally pursuing, tormenting and annoying a manatee with the potential for serious injury and even death is an illegal form of harassment, which the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to enforce. Unless this issue is dealt with decisively, it may spur others to copy their reprehensible behavior, which could cause serious harm to manatees. Their videos need to be taken down, and, at the very least, a formal apology needs to be posted in place.”

Attorney David Joffe, representing Podesta, says the two men are extremely remorseful and meant this as a joke. “They never had any intention to harm the manatee,” he says. “In fact, the hook that was used was a very small hook.”

At press time, Podesta and Kuhn had both served their jail times, though Podesta hadn’t posted an apology on MySpace. Joffe says Podesta likely received the more severe sentence because he urges Kuhn in the video to catch the manatee.

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