Do not ride the manatees! A Florida woman who was spotted riding a manatee has turned herself in after authorities were looking for her.
Ana Flora Garcia Gutierrez, 52, thought it would be fun to spend Sunday going on her own swim with the manatees adventure in Fort DeSoto Park in Tierra Verde, Florida. She jumped into the waters with the creatures wearing red shorts, a black bikini top and a white baseball cap.
Riding or even touching a manatee is not only frowned upon in the state-- it is illegal.
Pinellas County Sheriff's Office deputies received a call around 1p.m. about a woman who was riding a manatee in the park. The deputies of the Environmental Lands and Marine Enforcement Unit showed up to the area near Gulf Pier where witnesses showed them pictures of the woman hitching a ride on the back of one of the mammals. However the woman was nowhere to be found.
Coming in close contact with the manatees is against the law in the state. The Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act states: "It is 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 any Manatee," according to News-Press.com
The manatees did not appear to be injured, but violating the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act is considered a second degree misdemeanor. Such an act is punishable by a $500 fine or a 60 day county jail sentence.
The manatee riding culprit has stepped forward. She contacted the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office at around 4p.m on Sunday.
Gutierrez pleaded guilty to engaging in illegal manatee-back riding at the park. She claims that she is new to the region and she wasn't aware that it is illegal to come in contact with the animals.
The woman was not arrested. The second degree misdemeanor charges will be prosecuted by the State Attorney's Office.
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri for the Pinellas County Sheriff Office noted that it is manatee mating season, so more of the creatures are around."People need to just leave them alone and to not molest and certainly not try to ride them," Gualtieri said in a conference.
RadarOnline reached out to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) for a comment on the issue. They found the incident to be upsetting.
"It's bad enough that these slow-moving, gentle creatures are ripped apart by boat propellers. Animals, in general, will be better off when people learn that they exist for their own reasons and that you can love them without having to climb all over them," PETA's Vice President of Communications Lisa Lange told RadarOnline.com.
Manatees are slow moving marine mammals that can grow up to 13 feet long and weigh 1,300 pounds. They are sometimes called sea cows. The animals are heavily protected because they are endangered.