A woman in St. Petersburg, Florida was arrested yesterday after the local sheriff's department published photos of her riding a manatee in nearby Tampa Bay. The woman, identified as Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez, has been charged with violating the Florida Marine Sanctuary Act, which seeks to "protect and preserve living and other resources of the Florida Keys marine environment."
Deputies said that Ana admitted to "touching and riding a manatee at Fort Desoto Park" back in September, but "did not realize" it was against the law to do so at the time, having recently moved to the area. Earlier in October, the sheriff's department declined to arrest Ana after she submitted to questioning since she had not committed a crime in the presence of any deputies. Instead they forwarded her case along to the State Attorney's Office, which issued a warrant and arrested her yesterday.
The charge carries with it either a fine up to $500 or a maximum of 60 days in jail, which seems a small price to pay for a once-in-a-lifetime experience like riding a manatee. Anyone with a halfway decent breaststroke can swim with dolphins; dolphins have no discernible taste in swimming partners and will just as happily bound alongside a person as they will a dead jellyfish or photo-degraded plastic debris field.
A manatee, however - these gentle giants that can live to be 60 years old and drift sagely from drowned forest to swamp to open sea - that's something worth swimming with. If you can do one better and coax one of them into letting you ride on its back like Amphitrite herself, then that's worth whatever cost those land-dwelling lawmen try to exact from you.
Officials believe that the manatee has survived its encounter with Ana with all its facilities and faculties intact.