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      Manatee abuse

      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.