Florida Woman's Manatee Ride Violates Law and Brings ChargesPublished October 5, 2012
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The manatee is dearly loved by Floridians. These super-sized mammals spend their winters swimming in the warm waters of the rivers and coastal areas of Florida where their visits are greatly appreciated. Sea cows are so deeply treasured in the state that many resident drivers use the popular “Save the Manatee” license plates, which help support research and protection programs for these animals in the state.
Manatees are considered to be the world’s most peaceful and non-aggressive mammals. These gentle giants communicate with each other through the various sounds they produce and by touching one another. While many manatees prefer to live in communal groups, some choose a more solitary existence. And while they have no “natural” predators, these animals are at great risk of being injured or killed by motorboats since they are extremely curious about humans. Manatees are considered an endangered species and are protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act.
So what would account for a Florida woman to be facing second-degree misdemeanor charges in connection with manatees?
According to the Tampa Bay News, Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez violated the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act after she was observed jumping on them in order to catch a ride on one, even though she was asked to stop.
In a news conference held by Pinellas County Sheriff, Bob Gualtieri, he condemned the alleged harassment of a manatee which he described as "a huge part of our culture in Florida and a very integral part of what Florida is about." Visibly upset with the incident, he added, “Go ride a Jet Ski. Don’t use animals. She needs to be held accountable for her actions.”
Fortuitously, good luck was on the side of this manatee. A bystander managed to snap a photo of the woman riding the huge mammal. Gutierrez’s picture had been captured for posterity. The publicity paid off in spades and the “manatee molester” soon called the sheriff to turn herself in.
Later that day, Gutierrez met with deputies at her home in St. Petersburg and admitted she touched the manatees, however claimed she was unaware that it was illegal. While no charges or arrests were made at the time, according to authorities charges were referred to the state attorney's office.
Gutierrez’s trouble began when visitors to the beach called the deputies’ office to report a woman taking a ride astride a manatee. The deputies were dispatched to investigate the incident but when they arrived at the Gulf pier there was no trace of either the woman or the sea cow. But later the caller provided the deputies with photographs of a woman dressed in a bikini top poised upon the manatee’s back.
While authorities suspect that the manatee was not harmed physically, violating the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act is a second-degree misdemeanor crime, punishable by 60 days in county jail or a $500 fine.
Does the punishment for violating the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act fit the crime? What do you think? Tell us in a comment.