Carmen Iben, Global Animal
Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez turned herself in just hours after authorities released photographs of her riding on the back of a manatee in waters off of Fort De Soto, Florida. New to the St. Petersburg area, Gutierrez admitted to her crime, claiming to not be at fault as she was unaware that any touching of manatees is illegal in the state of Florida.
Despite her plea, authorities take these situations very seriously, and now, the 52-year-old woman is facing a fine of $1,000 and up to 60 days in jail, according to WPTV.com.
Interfering with these creatures is a second degree misdemeanor under the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act.
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.”
And with the Marine Mammal Protection Act and U.S. Endangered Species Act intact, Gutierrez could face even harsher consequences if found guilty of harassing this protected species.
While manatees are certainly one of the friendliest species out there, it is important that humans avoid contact with these beautiful mammals because we unintentionally pose as threats to their lives.
When manatees become acquainted with humans, they grow comfortable swimming in surface waters where boats often become a threat. These boats may collide with the manatees and cause severe injuries or even death.
Many manatees, when examined closely, have an incredibly high number of scars caused from boat propellers. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, every year about 87 Florida manatees are killed by humans by boat collisions or closely related unfortunate encounters.
Let this be a lesson, Florida residents. Stay away from the manatees! Our manatees are already an endangered species. We don’t need to lose more due to human negligence.
And while the state of Florida is considering opening the Wakulla Spring—located up the coast from St. Petersburg—to recreational diving which can be very disruptive to manatees and their habitat, make sure to sign the petition protecting these endangered animals from further development and recreation.