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Florida woman arrested for riding an endangered manatee

(Reuters) - A Florida woman photographed two months ago riding an endangered manatee in violation of state law was arrested on Saturday on misdemeanor charges, authorities said.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's office said deputies arrested Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez, 53, without incident at her job at a Sears store in St. Petersburg on a warrant for violating the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act.

The state makes it illegal to "annoy, molest, harass or disturb" the endangered aquatic mammals, whose survival is imperiled by manmade threats, including boating collisions. Violations are considered a second-degree misdemeanor.

The arrest stemmed from reports on September 30 that an unidentified woman had been seen touching and riding a manatee - which can grow up to 12 feet in length and weigh up to 1,800 pounds (818 kilograms) - at Fort Desoto Park, a few miles from downtown St. Petersburg.

Following media coverage of her cavorting with the mammal, Garcia Gutierrez called the sheriff's office two days later to turn herself in.

She admitted the offense claiming "she is new to the area and did not realize it was against the law to touch or harass manatees," the office said in a news release.

It was not immediately clear what penalties Garcia Gutierrez would face if convicted.

(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Paul Simao)

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