Thomas Cope from Clearwater admitted in a statement to WFTS that he was taking a video and apologized.
“I apologize for my actions on the boat earlier this week. I sincerely wish there was some way I could have safely returned to shore to release the raccoon,” Cope said.
Cope said he discovered the fully-grown male raccoon that had been hiding on his boat for several hours. The animal did not reveal itself until they were a good distance offshore.
“The animal was running around the boat hissing and growling, making it impossible for me or my friend to drive the boat,” Cope said in the statement, according to WFTS.
“Knowing raccoons can be rabid and unpredictable, the only realistic option we could think of in that moment was to get the raccoon off the boat,” he added.
In the video circulated on social media, a man can be heard shouting at the raccoon to get off the boat.
“We’re just going to have to push him off,” he says.
The animal scurries to the edge of the boat and appears to fall off. The man then points the camera toward the water and films the raccoon paddling in the water.
The video caught the attention of officials from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWS) who have launched an investigation, reported WFTS.
“The FWC was alerted to a video by a tip from the public on May 8 which is circulating on social media sites, showing a group of individuals with a raccoon on their vessel. The FWC takes this very seriously and is currently investigating this incident,” the commission said in a statement to the website.
There have been mixed reactions about whether what Cope allegedly did was right.
“Pretty amazing that a supposedly educated man can be so stupid. All you had to do was contain him and go back to shore. I am sure that would have caused you to miss too much time being an [expletive]!” one social media user said.
“I don’t like raccoons either but you just don’t do that,” another said.
Other people defended the attorney, saying that the raccoon could be carrying rabies.
“I would have done the same thing. Raccoons carry rabies. Like if most if you had rats roaming freely through your homes. Why not let the little fellows rome freely!” one person said.
“The people who are acting morally superior are clueless when it comes to raccoons. Raccoons carry rabies and are NOT nice. I’m sure if there was a way to get the raccoon safely off the boat, they would have done so. But it was too late for that,” another person wrote.
According to The Humane Society of the United States, raccoons are a primary carrier of the disease rabies but the possibility of dying from a raccoon strain of rabies is low.
After a raccoon is infected by the virus, it takes about one to three days before it dies. There are treatments for humans who are bitten by a rabid raccoon.
The organization has provided tips on the types of behavior of a rabid raccoon, including:
- Staggering gait
- An animal seemingly oblivious to noise or nearby movement
- Erratic wandering
- Discharge from eyes or mouth
- Wet and matted hair on face
- Repeated high-pitch vocalization
People are recommended to call police or animal control if they observe these signs in a raccoon.