Gutierrez was arrested while working at her job at Sears department store in Tampa. Prosecutors were initially hesitant to press charges because police did not witness the incident, but the second-degree charges were forwarded to the state’s attorney office.
ABC News reported that the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act 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.”
Manatees have been on the endangered species list since 1967 as populations have dwindled as leisure boating has become popular in recent decades. Manatees swim slowly near the surface and are often seen with scars that clearly as the result of run-ins with motorboat propellers.
Gutierrez told police she was new to the area and did not know touching manatees was illegal. She faces up to six months in jail and a maximum $500 fine, according to the Los Angeles Times. Police say the manatee was not injured but Gutierrez did interfere with a mating ritual.
Manatees can grow up to 12 feet and weigh up to 1,800 pounds. The sherriff’s office told the Tampa Bay Times that the animals are an essential fabric of Florida society and should not be bothered.
“Go ride a Jet Ski,” the sheriff said. “Don't use animals.”