Thursday, November 29, 2012

Illegal to ride a manatee

The LA Times reports:
A St. Petersburg, Fla., woman was arrested on a misdemeanor warrant Saturday after being photographed two months ago riding a manatee.

Florida's Manatee Sanctuary Act protects the endangered sea mammal and says in part, “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.”

Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez, 53, was taken into custody without incident at a Sears department store where she works, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

The incident first came to the public's attention when Sheriff Bob Gualtieri held a news conference on Oct. 2 and asked for help in identifying the woman photographed riding the manatee at nearby Fort De Soto Park in late September.

Gutierrez has admitted touching the endangered sea mammal, the sheriff's office said. She told deputies that she was new to the area at the time and didn't know it was illegal to touch a manatee. The manatee was not hurt.

The maximum penalty is a $500 fine and six months in jail. Gutierrez was released on $1,500 bail, the Associated Press reported.
Welcome to the Big Brother society. You could be having a harmless and fun day at the park, but someone could take a picture, post it on the internet, and the local cops could spends months tracking you down for some obscure offense that hurt no person or even an animal or plant.

Courts can issue restraining orders against harassment, but there is a lot of confusion about what that is. Harassment means continued, repeated, annoying behavior that has no legitimate purpose.

What this woman did was not harassment. It was not repeated, it was not annoying, and it did have a legitimate purpose. If a park ranger had warned her that she was annoying the manatee, then it might be harassment if she did it again to spite the ranger. But all they have is a picture of one incident.

I have no idea whether the tourists are harmful to the manatees, but if they want to prevent visitors from touching manatees then the law should say that no touching is allowed, and the park signs should say so also.

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