A couple visiting in Hawaii has received backlash after uploading a video to TikTok of the wife touching an endangered monk seal.
Stephen said he and his wife Lakyn were in Kauai after getting married on Maui, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. It was the first time they saw a Hawaiian monk seal and they didn’t know about the laws related to the species, the publication reported.
The video, re-uploaded on Instagram, has been viewed more than 42,000 times as of Tuesday afternoon.
Stefanie Gutierrez, spokeswoman of NOAA Fisheries, Pacific Islands Regional Office, told McClatchy News that the NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement is investigating the incident.
Stephen told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that NOAA has “assessed an undisclosed fine.”
“We sincerely apologize if we offended any locals. The last thing we want to do is disrespect anyone or anybody’s culture or lifestyle. That’s something we’re really, really sorry about,” Stephen said.
The Hawaiian monk seal is considered one of the world’s most endangered species, according to NOAA Fisheries. Its population is around 1,400, with 300 seals in the main Hawaiian Islands and 1,100 seals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, NOAA Fisheries reports.
The monk seal is protected under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and Hawaii state law, according to NOAA Fisheries.
“Intentional harassing,” killing or harming a monk seal is a class C felony and violators could face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000, Hawaii Magazine reported.
An Alabama man was fined $1,500 in 2018 for touching a monk seal and “harassing a sea turtle” and posting the videos online, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
In the video posted on Instagram, the man touches a sleeping monk seal, causing it to wake up, before he runs away, the publication reported.
Adam Kurtz, NOAA Fisheries wildlife management coordinator, said that these tourists usually have no ill intent toward the animals, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
“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,” Kurtz said. “But it’s really frustrating when you see people harass these animals.”