A Toledo area filmmaker is focusing national attention on the abuse of some of America's most gentle creatures.
H e has produced an award- winning documentary that reveals tour operators hara s sing Florida's manatees -- strictly for profit.
I recently met with him at his home and film studio in Temperance.
I t's a story you'll only see on NBC24.
W hen Mark Santa-Maria travelled to Crystal River, Florida back in December, his goal was to make a pretty movie about the manatees in their warm water winter sanctuary.
H e didn't expect to find the gentle marine mammals nicknamed sea cows harassed, chased, and grabbed -- by hired guides taking snorklers to the manatees' resting spots.
M ark used his expertise as a sound engineer to tape the mother's underwater distress calls as she was separated from her calf.
S oon, the tour operators caught on, and tried to block Mark's lens.
F or a month, Mark kept documenting -- recording this abuse of a calf.
A t one point , M ark witnessed a manatee mom "parking" her baby in shallow water as the mother went searching for food.
U ltimately, the calf died.
R eturning from his trip, Mark submitted his film to the prestigious "Our World Underwater Film Competition" and won first place in the conservation category.
T he film may help ensure the manatees' fans don't love these gentle beasts to death.