BUSTED: Alabama Tourist Fined $1,500 After Posting Video of Himself Harassing Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal
An Alabama tourist has been fined $1,500 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) after he posted an Instagram video of himself pursuing a Hawaiian monk seal.
According to the Washington Post, wildlife conservation authorities caught the man as part of a broad sweep of social media searching for potential violators of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act:
On Instagram, the man’s video includes the hashtag #monkseals, which is what tipped authorities off, according to NOAA Fisheries. Accompanied by the text "I touched a seal!!!!", the video shows the man creeping up on a sleeping seal at Poipu Beach at night and stroking the animal with his hand, the federal agency said. Startled, the seal turns toward the man — “its harasser,” as described by marine officials — causing him to run away. As the man flees, a familiar NOAA sign telling visitors to keep their distance can be seen.
Upon further examination of the man's Instagram account, the NOAA officer found another "problematic" video. In this one, the man "aggressively pursued a sea turtle for an extended period" while snorkeling.
The NOAA describes Hawaiian monk seals as "one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world" and "part of the identity of the islands ... hold[ing] a special place in the minds and hearts of the people of Hawaii." Only 1,400 animals remain alive.
The NOAA also notes that while the seals are not typically aggressive toward humans, they are wild animals that "outweigh the average human by several hundred pounds" and can sometimes pose safety risks if a mother is defending her pup, or if a younger seal is trying to play. Furthermore, if seals become conditioned to human interaction, they can be less afraid of people and start swimming closer to them, with risks for both.
Last month, the Trump administration moved to undermine key provisions of the Endangered Species Act. Under the new changes, species listed as "threatened" would not automatically receive the same protections as those listed as "endangered." The NOAA is also now being ordered to consider whether new protections would cost businesses money.