|FYI — March 2004|
|By Brad Dunn|
That’s what dozens of boaters discovered in December when they dialed an 800 number in the hope of saving a manatee, and instead were connected to a tawdry sex-chat hotline. Rather than being asked the location of a wounded sea cow, they were urged to supply a credit card number so they could join a party line and chat with “fantasy girls.”
The snafu occurred when the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission dropped the 800 number it had long advertised for manatee protection and failed to adequately notify the public. Weeks later the number was bought by Intimate Encounters, a Philadelphia-based sex-chat company.
The mix-up “makes us look really bad to the public,” wrote Elsa Haubold, who heads the Florida Marine Institute’s manatee program, in an official statement. She said the embarrassing situation “only adds to the levels of frustration felt by our field staff and FWC dispatchers.”
Overnight the Save the Manatee Club launched a PR damage-control campaign, announcing the new toll-free number for reporting dead or injured manatees (888-404-FWCC). The group says word about the new number is out, and more boaters are using the hotline.
Apparently, Intimate Encounters has made a marketing scheme out of purchasing old agency hotline numbers. The company reportedly has taken over 800 numbers formerly used by the World Wildlife Fund, Alltel customer service, the conservative journal Policy Review, and even rape crisis centers in Maine and Arizona. A spokesperson for Intimate Encounters did not return a call for comment.
Despite the embarrassment felt by the state’s Fish & Wildlife Commission, agency spokesman Henry Cabbage jokingly commended Intimate Encounters for its marketing strategy, telling reporters, “You’ve got to admire the American spirit when it comes to figuring out a way to make a buck.”
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This article originally appeared in the February 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.