Maryland State Police arrested an Anne Arundel County man in Ocean City on Friday morning who was wanted by Florida officials after he allegedly attacked a federally protected pelican in the Florida Keys.
After getting tips from the public, troopers arrested William Hunter Hardesty, 31, of Davidsonville, on a warrant from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission that charges him with animal cruelty to migratory birds and the intentional feeding of pelicans. He is being held as a fugitive in the Worcester County Detention Center, according to police.
A viral video on social media appears to show Hardesty luring and then jumping on top of a pelican in the water.
Hardesty allegedly posted the video last week to his Facebook profile. In the footage, Hardesty appears to lean over a harbor’s edge holding out something in his hand. The pelican floats closer, and Hardesty appears to jump into the water on top of the pelican, causing both to dunk beneath the water’s surface.
When the two re-emerge, Hardesty appears to grasp the bird with two hands while others not pictured on camera can be heard laughing. The pelican snaps its beak across the man’s face, causing him to release the bird.
The brown pelican species in the video is protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Florida state law, which prohibit people from feeding or molesting the bird, according to Florida wildlife commission spokesman Officer Bobby Dube.
Florida authorities investigated and obtained an arrest warrant for Hardesty.
Maryland State Police at the Berlin Barrack were tipped off Friday morning by “concerned citizens” who told police they believed the individual in the video was staying at an Ocean City hotel and had been bragging to them about being wanted for feeding and tackling a pelican in the Florida Keys, according to police.
After the video went viral, Hardesty had continued to post about the pelican incident on social media, including a link to a GoFundMe campaign to raise $20,000 for himself. The campaign pledges to donate half of the funds to the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center, but does not specify what the remaining $10,000 would be used for.
On March 10, he posted “I’m so hungry I could eat a pelican!!” on Facebook. And on Wednesday he wrote “Thinking about gettin a pillican [sic] tattoo today,” followed by two smiling face emojis with horns.
Maryland troopers arrested Hardesty without incident soon after 9 a.m. Friday morning at a hotel in the 12000-block of Ocean Gateway, in Ocean City. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office in Florida has been notified of the arrest and is initiating extradition proceedings, according to police.
Baltimore Sun reporter Lillian Reed contributed to this report.