Changing Planet

Manatee-Riding Woman Highlights Importance of Ocean Education

Not a jet ski. Photo: Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department


A woman has reportedly just turned herself in after pictures surfaced this week of her riding a manatee off Florida. Harassing a manatee in any way is against Florida law, and is a second-degree misdemeanor.

The Florida Manatee Sanctuary Acts 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.”

According to news reports, the middle-aged woman was seen riding a manatee, or sea cow, at 1 p.m. Sunday in the water north of Gulf Pier in Fort De Soto Park in Pinellas, which is near Tampa, Florida. (Learn about manatees.)

The woman has been identified in the media as Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez, 52. It is currently unclear whether charges will be pressed, as the state attorney’s office is reportedly looking into the matter. Gutierrez has not been arrested as of this writing.

If convicted, she could face up to 60 days in jail and a fine up to $500. According to media reports, authorities do not believe the manatee was injured in the encounter (though no word on its pride).

The woman reportedly told police that she did not know she had done anything wrong, or that manatees enjoyed legal protection from being approached. Manatees are slow-moving creatures that can be easily caught by swimmers, a fact that has long made them vulnerable to hunters. Today, thanks to legal protections, the biggest threat to manatees is collision by boats and damage to their habitat, especially from coastal development. Manatees often travel quite far inland in brackish and freshwater.

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

Ocean Views has reached out to James Powell, a biologist who studied manatees in the Everglades (with National Geographic support) for comment, but has not heard back yet.

Clearly, the public could use more education about the importance of protecting manatees, as well as all other living things.

In the award-winning documentary Cove, Rick O’Barry stressed that interactions between human beings and wild animals can be beautiful experiences for both species, but they should only occur if the animals initiate the encounter.  O’Barry has had wonderful experiences swimming with wild dolphins, but he says in every case they approached him. (He is not a fan of “canned” experiences that pair trained dolphins with tourists–a combination we recently saw can lead to trouble.)


Woman riding a manatee in Florida
Photo: Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department

Brian Clark Howard covers the environment for National Geographic. He previously served as an editor for and E/The Environmental Magazine, and has written for Popular Science,,,, Yahoo!, MSN, and elsewhere. He is the co-author of six books, including Geothermal HVACGreen LightingBuild Your Own Small Wind Power System, and Rock Your Ugly Christmas Sweater.


    Education is the key. People need to know how to treat endangered animals, including manatees.
    They suffered quite a bit during the record-cold winter we had a few years ago. Many died.
    We need to take care of these gentle giants.

  • Wally Geez

    Which one is the Manatee?

  • someone

    She didn’t mean any harm and I believe that she didn’t know she did anything wrong. She knows now not to do such things. Not everyone lives and breaths animals all day. Give her a break she does not need jail time. The public is being educated as we type.

  • Sheri Hubball

    I am very glad to read your article on this unfortunate abuse of manatees. I was equally as thrilled to see you use this opportunity to mention The Cove. It is extremely important that people realise that the only way wild animals should be viewed is in their natural habitats in the wild. Many people still do not realise the horrors involved in the capturing of wild animals for exhibits an the ongoing torture they suffer contained in unnatural surroundings.
    I was also very pleases to see your most recent magazine on the plight if elephants being killed for ivory. I have suggested to your magazine that an article on blood dolphins a great next step in your continuing education. The dolphin drive hunts continue in the cove, Taiji, Japan. They started again, as they do every year, on September 1st and will run through March of next year. It is a known fact that the big money that fuels & sustains these hunts is the sale of the ones kept alive for a life in captivity.
    Unfortunately, the majority of the general public still remain unaware of this and the fact that they are helping to sustain this barbarity by supporting aquariums and swim with programs around the world.
    I plead with you to help bring more awareness to this issue.

  • sherri leach

    So glad to see this photo posted My husband Steve Leach is a local wildlife photographer who called me from ft desota shortly after taking the shot shocked that anyone would commit this act..since the woman has turned herself in and claimed she was ignorant to the laws we think the exposure of the photo has produced a tremendous value to the education of what not to do around wildlife. Steve has witnessed protected nesting areas being walked across and sea turtle fences being stepped over. This exposure can go along way in educating people who aren’t aware, that some species need our help Thank you for sharing his photo.

  • sherri leach

    Thank you for sharing my husband Steve Leach photo. He called me from the beach shortly after this happened in disbelief that someone would do this. As a local wildlife photographer, he has witnessed the public walking through protected nesting areas and climbing over sea turtle nesting barriers. We are so pleased for the exposure of this issue. Since she turned herself in perhaps the education value to the public of her so called ignorance will go along way in helping protect Florida wildlife. Thank you for sharing Steve”s photo.

  • Mike

    The problem is that we have all these television shows that show people hand-crafting machine guns, shooting alligators, fishing for crabs, swimming with cetaceans, wandering through abandoned underground tunnels, and people forget that these people are GODS, celebrities on an infinitely higher plane than they can ever be, whose passing smiles are worth more than people can earn in a lifetime of toil, who have the Special Permissions to do things other than sit in a basement and play video games. Perhaps the National Geographic Channel could set a useful precedent for public education on these matters by holding a minute or two of prayer to the relevant celebrities and government licensing bureaus before each broadcast; if you set up microphone feedback you can even have people repeat advertising jingles in their prayers to defray your costs.

  • halbe

    Unbelievable, who in their right mind would “ride” any wild animal? It’s not about education, what happened to common sense? I think she needs charging.

  • brian

    didn’t know that manatee wear cap and bikini top

  • Doug

    Yee Haw!! Hey if FPL(Florida Power & Light) aka Florida Plunder & Loot is gonna include a charge hidden in my bill. To keep Manatee artificially warm in the winter? Yer dang straight I wanna ride one!

    The Manatee problem in FL was born of thermal pollution. In the 60’s the then fledgling SMC (Save The Manatee Club) noticed that Manatee would hang out around the warm water discharge from FLs coal fired power plants. There were a few actual scientists in the SMC back then who warned this was not a good thing.

    FPL not wanting to look like bad guys and/or have to face any government regulation, devised a brilliant plan. Lets make friends with SMC and build some viewing platforms where the public can see the Manatee and we can all make money. Et voila! The scientists were silenced and the problem began.

    As FPL plants now convert from coal to natural gas they create far less thermal pollution. Hmm. Now what to do. Wait, I got it! Artificially heat the run off and charge FPL customers. Isn’t that bizarre?!

    Nowadays the esteemed Katie Tripp of SMC throws up her hands and says “no one had a clue that Manatees(sic) would become dependent on the warm water but that is what happened over the years”. BS!

  • Doug

    Hey Krischan. If you want you can visit Mote Aquarium and pet the Manatee “Snooty”. I promise you won’t face any charges or jail time. The fines are waived there …

  • Doug

    When the Manatee went home after work & told his friends about it I’ll bet they all had a good laugh …

  • cherrylipgloss

    Would it be possible to implement a plan whereby the artificially warmed run-off was lowered by one degree every year until the run off was the same temperature as the surrounding waters? Thus, in time, eliminating the practice of heating the water for the manatees. Just a thought.

  • Kathy

    A friend & I were at St. Pete Beach in mid-Aug 2012 & waded out to chin-high water. Suddenly, in front of us in deeper water, only about 15 feet away, a long manatee was swimming underwater, headed north. It seemed like everyone in the water that day, even school-aged children, knew to not try to get close. Everyone was excited though. Might be a once in a lifetime experience for me…nature is awesome & these gentle animals should be protected. People, please use common sense! Obviously, abovementioned woman didn’t

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