Tourists in Hawaii Given $500 Fine for Touching an Endangered Monk Seal

·3-min read

Pics or it didn't happen? Two tourists were fined $500 by a federal agency for touching an endangered seal species in Hawaii after they posted their encounters on social media, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

The newspaper reported that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Office of Law Enforcement launched investigations into the incidents involving Hawaiian monk seals after videos surfaced online. Both were found to be in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The NOAA says the seals are protected by state and federal laws and suggests viewing them from a distance of about 50 feet.

One of the violations was posted on TikTok on June 7 by a Louisiana woman who was on her honeymoon at a Kauai beach after getting married on Maui. She was seen posing next to the seal, and when she touched it, the mammal snapped. The paper said that her husband, Stephen, apologized for her behavior and said they would pay the fine since they are huge fans of Hawaii and hadn't intended harm. (They preferred not to reveal their last names since they have received death threats from the incident going viral.)

Separately, tourist Alex Magala posted an Instagram video of his encounter with a monk seal from his trip, which appears to have been in May of this year. The sea creature snapped its tail after he touched it, and when he neared the seal again, it barked and swam into the ocean.

Hawaiian monk seal relaxing on beach.
Hawaiian monk seal relaxing on beach.

Getty Images

Magala, a sword swallower who happens to have performed at the 2014 Sochi Olympics opening ceremony and won Russia's Got Talent, issued an online apology on July 14: "I just found out that I did a wrong thing. I touched a laying down seal and was not aware that it was [a] disrespectful move from my side, especially when I am a guest in [a] new place." He goes on to explain that he thought the creature "was dead and wanted to see it closer," adding that he was trying to calm it down. Magala also said that since California allows people to feed fish to seals from piers, he didn't expect his action to be troublesome.

The NOAA says to stay behind any signs or barriers when viewing Hawaiian monk seals, and if there isn't signage, go by a "rule of thumb" method: First, make a thumbs-up sign and stretch out your arm, then turn your thumb parallel to the ground following the line of sight with the seal. If your thumb covers the seal entirely, then you're at a safe distance.

Currently, there are approximately 1,400 seals remaining, with about 1,100 in the northwestern islands of Hawaii and 300 in the main islands. The population has been on the decline for 60 years, but recent recovery efforts have led to a slight increase. Still, the NOAA says they're considered "one of the most endangered seal species in the world."

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