Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez, 52, has turned herself in to authorities after a search by police. Her crime? Riding on a manatee, which is an endangered species and against the law in Florida.
After visitors to the Fort DeSoto Park called police to report a woman "riding" a manatee, Gutierrez left. Witnesses took photos, however, and showed them to officials, who then launched a search for the woman. While it is a second-degree misdemeanor to "molest, harass, or disturb" manatees in the state of Florida, Gutierrez was not arrested.
She finally turned herself in and confessed to spending time with the manatee but added that she did not know it was an offense to touch the animal since she was new to the area. Police have forwarded the charges to the Florida State's Attorney's office, and it remains to be seen whether she will be prosecuted for her crime.
"If we could, we'd lock her up," Sheriff Bob Gaultieri told First Coast News. "The punishment is up to 60 days in the county jail and a fine, and that would be up to a judge. This is probably one of the most egregious cases that we've seen of just an absolute disrespect for wildlife. When you just hop on its back and want to go for a ride, I mean, go ride a jet ski-don't use the animals."
Florida has enacted laws guaranteed to protect the manatees, which are considered endangered. According to Save the Manatee, the Florida Manatee Recovery Plan "was developed as a result of the Endangered Species Act." The gentle sea giants are in danger of extinction, with only approximately 5,000 in the United States as of January 2011.
Officials have since examined the animal and have said that they do not believe it suffered any injuries or trauma after the experience.