UPDATE: Manatee Rider Arrested

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manatee harassmentFlorida sources report that the woman who was accused in October of manatee harassment (for riding one) has been arrested. At the time, officials had not yet decided whether to charge the manatee rider under the Florida law that makes it illegal to, among other things, "in any manner intentionally or negligently to annoy, molest, harass, or disturb or attempt to molest, harass, or disturb any manatee …." They obviously decided to do so, since according to the report the woman was arrested on Saturday, booked and released.

A Tampa Bay Times report on the arrest ends this way: "Authorities said in early October that they did not believe the manatee was physically hurt. The psychological impact of the incident is harder to assess, they said." Yes, I imagine that's true. Even if you could find the right manatee at this point (it didn't stick around to file a complaint), I don't know what you would ask it in order to see whether it needs therapy. "Do you find yourself to be less buoyant lately?" Unfortunately, though, this will almost certainly not lead to an attempted argument that the manatee in question was not actually "annoyed," for example, because the statute is broad enough that the State would not need to prove this. Probably they will go with something like "attempted manatee harassment," which would not require proof that the victim subjectively felt harassed.

The report also quotes a statement in October by Bob Gualtieri, the sheriff of Pinellas County, calling attention to the incident and to the continuing problem of manatee abuse. "Go ride a Jet Ski," Gualtieri said at a press conference. "Don't use animals." I couldn't agree more, although people looking for a Jet Ski experience are probably not the same ones trying to ride manatees. If any manatee-riders have been disappointed in that regard, may we suggest trying a shark ride instead?

The rider in this case faces a $500 fine and/or up to 60 days in jail for the alleged sea-cow molestation, a second-degree misdemeanor under Florida law.