There are two upsides to last month's search for a woman photographed riding a manatee at Ft. DeSoto Park. The pictures went viral and attracted attention around the world, introducing sea cows globally and increasing awareness about their legal protections.
Both of those positives came into play last week when visiting British journalists went kayaking in the same area.
Visit St. Pete/Clearwater's David Downing was their host and told FOX 13 News, "They know what a manatee is and we had just been discussing that because they asked me what are the legalities, what if there's manatees."
An hour later, a manatee parked under one of the journalists' kayaks.
"It just lifted the boat up very slightly," The Sun's Vince Soodin said in a telephone interview. "I remember reading the story on the web about the other lady, and yeah, it was as big as the boat, maybe bigger."
Soodin said he was concerned about the law, the welfare of the manatee, and his own safety.
"I believe they're pretty harmless but I was frightened for a little bit," Soodin admitted. "It was an unbelievable experience. I'll never forget it."
More importantly for Pinellas's multi-billion-dollar tourism industry, he and the other visiting journalists will write about it.
"We find, our readers, they really like stories about animals," Soodin agreed.
That is the upside for Visit St. Pete/Clearwater. The combined readership of the British visitors is 3.5 million.
Sgt. David DiSano, a spokesman for the Pinellas Sheriff's Office, explained the other upside.
"Somebody actually saw the story, realized that touching or harassing a manatee is against the law, and now somebody's thinking twice before...petting it or doing something else or feeding it."
DiSano said the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's office has not decided whether to prosecute the original "manatee rider," who quickly called authorities when the photos of her actions were made public.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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