A woman caught on camera riding endangered Florida manatees has come forward and turned herself in to authorities, claiming ignorance.
Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez was photographed riding three manatees Sunday at Florida's Fort De Soto Park, near Tampa Bay, as beachgoers told her to get away from the gentle mammals, also ignoring signs posted along the beach about not touching wildlife.
"She was jumping from one to another," witness Lynn Parrish told a Fox 13 Tampa Bay television reporter. "She was like chasing them and jumping on them, sitting on them, holding them under and they're flapping and trying to get away from this woman."
Gutierrez, 52, turned herself in to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, telling deputies she was new to the area and didn't realize it was against the law to touch the manatees.
"I think it's egregious that somebody would just for their own pleasure, really, abuse an animal," said Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. "Manatees aren't meant to be ridden."
Charges have been forwarded to the state attorney's office for possible prosecution. Harrassing manatees is a second-degree misdemeanor under the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act, which could result in a fine of up to $1,000 and possible jail time for Gutierrez.
One cannot imagine what Gutierrez was thinking, but what comes to my mind after hearing about her actions is a line from the movie Forrest Gump: Stupid is as stupid does.
-- Kelly Burgess
-- Images of Gutierrez taken by Steve Leach, fastballphotography.com