Ana Gloria Gutierrez was arrested yesterday while at work in a Sears store in a St. Petersburg, Florida mall. She was arrested on a warrant obtained by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
On Sept. 30, visitors at Fort De Soto Park in Pinellas County observed a woman riding on the back of a manatee. ABC Action News
reports people yelled at her to get off, but she paid no attention. When sheriff's deputies arrived, both the woman and the manatee were gone.
Police distributed the photographs through the media and two days later Gutierrez turned herself in. She told deputies she had just recently moved to the area and did not know what she had done was illegal. Gutierrez was not charged at that time but the matter was sent to the State Attorney's Office for consideration. The decision to proceed with a charge led to the warrant being issued for the woman's arrest.
Under the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act
, it is illegal for any person, "at any time, by any means, or in any manner", to intentionally or negligently annoy, molest or harass a manatee. Attempting to do these acts is also illegal. It is also a violation of the statute to hunt, pursue, kill or injure the sea mammal or attempt to do so. Possession of a manatee or any part of a manatee is also a violation of the statute.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtierre is quoted in the Tampa Bay Times
as saying manatees are "a huge part of our culture here in Florida." His advice for people who want to go for a ride on the water? "Get a Jet Ski. Don't use animals."
It does not appear that the manatee was physically injured by Gutierrez, but the sea mammal might have suffered some psychological damage.
Gutierrez has been released on $1,500 bail. If convicted, she faces a fine of up to $500 or up to six months in jail.