Man fined for touching monk seal

LIHUE (AP) — An Alabama man was fined $1,500 for touching a Hawaiian monk seal as well as harassing a sea turtle on Kauai, and then posting the videos on social media.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, said the Alabama resident, who was vacationing on Kauai last year, agreed to pay the fine, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported on Friday.

NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement in Hawaii used the man’s social media accounts to track down his home address.

The Alabama man, in the video posted on Instagram with the hashtag #monkseals, walks up to a sleeping monk seal on Poipu Beach at night, and strokes it with his hand. The startled seal quickly turns toward him, and he runs away.

The man panned his camera to a sign from the NOAA urging beachgoers to maintain a safe distance from wildlife.

“Violations are usually the result of things like tourists wanting to get a good, close picture with a seal or a thrill-seeker trying to get a rush,” Adam Kurtz, NOAA Fisheries wildlife management coordinator, said in a statement. “But it’s really frustrating when you see people harass these animals.”

Hawaiian monk seals are a critically endangered species. They are protected by both state and federal laws, including the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The man could have been injured because Hawaiian monk seals are wild animals that can act unpredictably, Kurtz said. The seal could have lunged at the man instead of simply turning toward him.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials, while investigating the man’s Instagram account, also found a video of him aggressively pursuing a sea turtle while snorkeling at Poipu.

All species of sea turtles in U.S. waters are listed as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, according to NOAA.