A Florida woman caught riding a manatee in the waters at Fort De Soto Park, just outside St. Petersburg, has now been arrested and formerly charged, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office.
53-year-old Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez was caught by an anonymous photographer grabbing and then climbing onto the back of a manatee and riding it like a boogie board in early October.
The photographer then gave the photos to police, and they made the photos public in hopes that someone would come forward and identify the woman. After seeing the photos herself Gutierrez turned herself in.
Gutierrez said she was unaware she was committing a crime when she touched the endangered fresh water mammals. No law specifically prohibits riding a manatee, but the state’s Manatee Sanctuary Act does deem it unlawful for “any person at any time, by any means, or in any manner intentionally or negligently to annoy, molest, harass, or disturb or attempt to molest, harass, or disturb” the protected animals.
Gutierrez was arrested Saturday on a second-degree misdemeanor warrant. The maximum penalty for this type of infraction is a $500 fine and up to six months in jail; Gutierrez was released on $1,500 bail, the Associated Press reports.
On average, manatees only swim at about 3 to 5 mph near the surface of the water making them easy prey to fast moving boat propellers when unseen. In 2009, of the 429 Florida manatees recorded dead, 97 were killed by commercial and recreational vessels, which broke the earlier record number of 95 set in 2002. They have been known to swim at up to 20 mph in short bursts.