Woman Faces Charges For Joyriding Atop a Manatee

© Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office

Life is a funny thing: one day you're enjoying a sunny day at the beach, taking in the rays and hitching a piggy-back ride atop a manatee -- the next, you are a wanted criminal, with pictures of your forbidden joyride splashed across the internet.

Last Sunday afternoon, beachgoers at a Fort DeSoto Park, Florida snapped the photo above of a woman's illicit encounter with one of Gulf's most endangered species. When the news became public, state law enforcement launched a manhunt for the unidentified offender, who was in clear violation of the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act, particularly this portion which reads:

“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.”

The bizarreness of the story and accompanying images eventually would be shared far and wide across the web -- raising questions like "Who was this lady?" and "What on earth was she thinking?" Well, now we know.

From the Tampa Bay Times:

Later Tuesday, the publicity effort paid off when Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez phoned the Sheriff's Office and admitted to being the alleged manatee molester.

When deputies met with Gutierrez, 52, at her St. Petersburg home Tuesday evening, she admitted touching the manatees but claimed she didn't know that doing so was illegal.

Despite her ignorance of the law, Gutierrez now faces second-degree misdemeanor charges for her unwise manatee joyride, which could land her in jail for 60 days and include a fine of $500.

The whole strange affair should serve as an important reminder to others who might one day think that using protected wildlife as transportation might be a good idea.

“Go ride a Jet Ski," advises Florida Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. "Don’t use animals."

Tags: Endangered Species | Florida

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