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Manhunt For Manatee-Riding Lady Comes To An End In Florida

Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez is seen attempting to ride a manatee.
Pinellas County Sheriff's Office
Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez is seen attempting to ride a manatee.

For a short period, yesterday, the hunt was on in Pinellas County, Florida for a lady photographed riding a manatee.

The sheriff's department called a deadly serious press conference in which they asked the help of the public in identifying the perpetrator. The lady was wearing a white cap, red shorts and a black bikini top. Witnesses in the area, the sheriff said in a statement, took photographs and contacted police.

The Tampa Bay Timesreports that police quickly called a news conference and described the gathering as "slightly surreal in its gravity."

The paper adds:

"Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri held a news conference to decry the alleged abuse of an animal he called 'a huge part of our culture here in Florida' and 'a very integral part of what Florida is about.' ...

"'Go ride a Jet Ski. Don't use animals,' the sheriff said. 'She needs to be held accountable for her actions.'"

Under Florida law molesting or annoying a manatee is a second degree misdemeanor. Having grown up in the state, I can attest manatees are pretty much sacred. They're endangered and without any natural predators the sea cows are not afraid of humans.

"It's a wild animal. It's not something to be ridden," Susan Butler, a manatee expert with the U.S. Geological Survey in Gainesville, told the Times. "I can't say that as a biologist I would ever, ever condone that, or say that (the manatee) wanted them to do that."

But fear not, the public relations blitz yielded results. The sheriff's office said that hours after releasing the pictures to the public, 52-year-old Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez turned herself in to police.

"Deputies met with Gutierrez at her residence and questioned her regarding the reported events," the sheriff said in a statement. "Gutierrez admitted to the offense claiming she is new to the area and did not realize it was against the law to touch or harass manatees. Deputies further explained the law regarding manatees and the possible penalties for violating such laws."

The charges have been referred to the state attorney's office for prosecution.

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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