Viral photographs of a woman riding a manatee near Fort De Soto Park are causing outrage and are leading to authorities asking who the woman is.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is asking the public for helping in identifying and finding a woman spotted astride a manatee in the waters off Fort De Soto Park Sunday.
Deputies responded to a call from park rangers at Fort De Soto that a woman was riding a manatee in the waters north of the Gulf Pier.
The woman was unable to be found when deputies arrived, but witnesses were able to provide descriptions and photos of the woman, which also were posted to Facebook.
Manatees are in the midst of mating season and have been spotted in shallow waters in the area, including in Siesta Key, and wildlife experts and authorities remind folks to stay far away from manatees and dolphins.
According to a post on the Friends of Fort De Soto Facebook page, the manatees that the woman was riding were mating at the time of the incident.
One of the commenters wrote:
"I was shocked when I saw this lady in the water with the Manatees that were mating, It got worse as she sat on the Manatee, then RODE the Manatee. With people screaming from the shore. She finally got away from them as they swam off to deeper water. Rangers were called and took care of the situation."
Another commenter wrote:
"Uneducated people and wild life don't mix!!!!"
No manatees are believed to have been harmed in the incident.
According to the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act, it is unlawful for any person to intentionally or negligently disturb a manatee in any way. Violations are considered second degree misdemeanors. Depending on the severity of harassing or bothering manatees, a federal violation could land someone up to one year in prison and/or a fine up to $100,000. Florida law violations carry a punishment up to 60 days in jail and/or a fine up to $1,000.
The Amy H. Remley Foundation sums up what exactly you cannot do to manatees:
- swimming after a manatee moving away from you, or approaching a manatee before it has come up to you.
- pressing upon a manatee with your hand or foot, or any implement of any sort.
- doing anything to separate a calf from a cow, or separate any manatee from a group of manatees or from another manatee.
- doing anything to disturb a resting manatee.
- attempting to feed any manatee or disturbing any naturally feeding manatee.
Manatees are classified as endangered by both the state and federal governments. Manatees are listed by the World Conservation Union as "vulnerable to extinction."
Anyone with information on the case is asked to contact Deputy Charlie Tita at (727) 582-6200.
If you see someone disturbing Manatees, you can also contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation by calling 1-888-404-FWCC (3922), *FWC or #FWC on your cellular phone or send a text message to Tip@MyFWC.com.