ST. PETERSBURG, Florida - People across the nation have seen the photographs of a St. Petersburg woman riding a manatee at Fort De Soto.
"Well, I was appalled," says Tracy Colson, who runs an eco-tour company in Crystal River. But Colson is not shocked or surprised by the behavior. During her kayak trips to manatee hangouts, she's often seen similar harassment, and even captured it on video.
On one of her tapes, you see a manatee with a tracking device trailing from its tail being mobbed by a group of snorkelers.
"There were a few instances that I've observed people actually riding or trying to ride, stepping on them, standing on them," said Colson.
According to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez told investigators she didn't know that touching and disturbing a manatee was against the law.
10 News stopped by her mobile home this morning, and people there told us she did not want to speak to the media.
However, we did reach by phone the photographer who took the pictures. Steve Leach says there were plenty of people at the beach shouting and yelling at Gutierrez to stop. But despite that, at one point he says she even jumped up and down on the manatee's back.
Leach took the photos because he knew what she was doing was against the law. "Not everything is Sea World, an amusement park where you can just jump on something and try to ride it," said Leach.
Gutierrez faces a possible misdemeanor charge. The Pinellas State Attorney's Office has not yet reviewed the case and made a decision.
Colson hopes some type of punishment is dispensed. She says there needs to be consequences for that type of behavior.
And through this incident, both Leach and Colson hope people learn that it's best to watch these marvelous creatures from a respectful distance. On her kayak tours, that's what Colson encourages.
"Passive observation is keeping your distance, being still and quiet, trying not to disturb the animal and just observing their natural behavior."