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Governor Ige issues warning to tourists posing with seals

HONOLULU (AP) — The governor of Hawaii is warning tourists to stay away from endangered monk seals.

Democratic Gov. David Ige took to social media Wednesday after videos of visitors touching the seals led to a federal investigation and fines.

Ige said in a post on Twitter that anyone caught disturbing a seal “will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

He added: “I want to be clear that this behavior is absolutely unacceptable. Visitors to our islands — you’re asked to respect our people, culture, and laws protecting endangered species that are found nowhere else in the world.”

Two widely circulated videos of visitors touching monk seals angered some Hawaii residents, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Thursday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it will investigate the incidents.

One video shows a Louisiana woman touching a seal on Kauai.

“When people feel like Hawaii is being disrespected by visitors who are looking for social media clout, the response is going to always be outrage,” Kauai Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar said.

There are an estimated 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and 300 in the main Hawaiian Islands. It’s a felony under state and federal laws to touch or harass Hawaiian monk seals. Violations can include penalties of up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

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