A recent action by the Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) illustrates how seriously the agency takes incidents of “harassing” protected species. According to a NOAA report, the agency fined a tourist $1,500 for “harassing” a monk seal and sea turtle on the Hawaiian island of Kau’i. NOAA is the federal agency responsible for the enforcement of federal laws protecting marine mammals, which includes the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Hawaiian monk seals and sea turtles are protected by both laws, which, among other things, prohibit “harassment.” There reportedly are only 1,400 of the seals left in the wild.
According to NOAA, the unidentified man walked up to a sleeping monk seal and stroked it with his hand causing the animal to awaken at which point the man ran away. That was the extent of the interaction. OLE was able to track the man down through local volunteers who monitor monk seals and because he posted a video of the incident on Instagram, titling the posting “I touched a seal!!!!” and utilizing the hashtag #monkseal, which caught the agency’s intention. This, in turn, led to the discovery of another “problematic” video of the same man “aggressively” pursuing a protected sea turtle for an extended period of time while snorkeling.
Once confronted by OLE, the man evidently was “cooperative,” accepted responsibility and paid a $1,500 fine.