Maui News

Gov. Ige Asks for Respect Amid Videos of People Touching Endangered Seals

By Wendy Osher
July 15, 2021, 8:57 AM HST
* Updated July 16, 5:32 AM
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Governor David Ige took to social media yesterday to address a growing concern after at least two videos have surfaced recently of visitors to Hawaiʻi, touching and disturbing endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals.

“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,” Gov. Ige wrote in both a Facebook and Twitter post.

“For those who don’t, make no mistake, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Hawaiʻi is a unique place that is home to many. We ask that you be considerate of all the people, and creatures, living here,” Gov. Ige wrote.

Monk seals are an endangered species that are illegal to disturb or harm in both federal and state law.

The violation is considered a Class C Felony and violators can face fines as high as $50,000 and a year of imprisonment.

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During other incidents reported in the past, officials with the Department of Land and Natural Resources have said Hawaiian monk seals, even pups, are large powerful animals and can bite if they feel threatened. Beachgoers are urged to maintain a safe distance from these animals. 

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Anyone who witnesses someone harassing or harming the seals may file a report to the DLNR Enforcement line at 643-DLNR (643-3567) or the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement Hotline at 800-853-1964.

Monk seal at “Baby Beach” on Maui. Thursday, April 30, 2020. PC: Sara Melching

Hawaiian monk seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act. Safe viewing guidelines for wildlife are posted here and below, as outlined by NOAA:

Hawaiian monk seals

  • Stay behind any signs or barriers.
  • Use the “rule of thumb” to determine a safe distance (if no signs or barriers are present)
    1. Make a “thumbs up” gesture and extend your arm straight in front of you.
    2. Turn your thumb parallel to the ground in your line of sight of the seal.
    3. If your thumb covers the entire seal, you are far enough away (about 50 feet or 15 meters).

Sea Turtles

  • View from at least 10 feet (3 meters)—on land and in water.

Humpback Whales

  • Do no approach within 100 yards—federal law.

Dolphins

  • Stay back at least 50 yards (45 meters).

These guidelines have been developed to maximize human safety, seal safety, and legal compliance.

Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served more than 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.
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