Illegal Manatee Ride Prompts Search for Suspect
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is searching for a woman seen riding and handling a manatee, an endangered species.
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.
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."
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.
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.