Woman wanted by authorities for "molesting manatee"

6:10 PM, Oct 2, 2012   |    comments
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Fort De Soto- Here in Florida we've heard it all, from teachers sexting students to horrible cases of animal abuse.

But here's a new one: a woman caught on camera over the weekend "MOLESTING" a manatee.

"Oh my God, the poor manatee," said a giggling Fort De Soto visitor Hannah Moore.

But Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gaultieri isn't laughing.

"If we could, we'd lock her up," said Sheriff Gaultieri.

The state of Florida has strict laws protecting the endangered manatee and harassing one can land the offender behind bars.

"The punishment is up to 60 days in the county jail and a fine, and that would be up to a judge," said the Sheriff who noted the woman could not be physically arrested unless the crime was witnessed by a deputy.

In this case, a woman was spotted riding on a manatee's back this past Sunday around 1:30 at Fort De Soto Park. Concerned citizens called police and one man even snapped several photos.

"This is probably one of the most egregious cases that we've seen of just an absolute disrespect for wildlife," said Gaultieri. "When you just hop on its back and want to go for a ride, I mean go ride a jet ski- don't use the animals."

The Sheriff's Office is now trying to locate the wanted woman who could face a misdemeanor charge. The Sheriff's hopes her bad example will educate others that messing with manatees is against the law.

Anyone with information on the case is asked by the Sheriff's Office to contact the Environmental Lands and Marine Enforcement Unit at 727-582-6200.

Beau Zimmer, 10 News

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