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Federal officials to check out photo of surfer atop endangered sea turtle

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A photo of a man who appears to be straddling or riding a threatened Hawaiian green sea turtle will be examined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The photo, circulated widely on the Internet, is troubling because no one should even touch the protected animal, said Patrick Opay, endangered species branch chief of the NOAA Fisheries Service Pacific Islands regional office in Honolulu.   

“It’s concerning for us because it doesn’t send a very good message to the public,” he said Friday. “You don’t want to be grabbing the animal, petting it, feeding it.” 

The photo captures a man underwater on top of a green sea turtle, grasping its shell with both hands. KHON-TV identified him as Jamie O’Brien, a professional surfer on Oahu’s North Shore. O’Brien and the photographer could not be reached for comment Friday.

KHON-TV brought the photo to Opay’s attention Thursday, whose office then referred it to NOAA’s enforcement group. Violating the Endangered Species Act can result in a maximum fine of more than $13,000. While it’s not clear if the photo is even genuine, Opay said it’s worth looking into. 

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