Federal and state officers are investigating after video of a man slapping a Hawaiian monk seal resting on a West Oahu beach was widely circulated on social media.
The video, originally posted on TikTok by Eric Mustevoy, was shared on Instagram by @hungryhungryhawaiian, an account which has 276,000 followers. The man, dressed in black shorts, a dark baseball cap and pink, short-sleeved shirt, appears to approach the monk seal from behind, lean over, and slap it in the hindquarters before running off.
Over the weekend, Mauinow.com reported backlash over the incident from Instagram users who saw the video. Mustevoy told Mauinow.com that he recorded the video over a month ago while visiting Hawaii.
Officers from the state Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement are aware of the incident, and have seen the social media post, but can not comment on an ongoing investigation.
“We encourage people to report violations immediately,” said DOCARE Chief Jason Redulla in a news release. “Far too often we learn about these cases after they’ve been posted to social media, which compounds the difficulty of gathering evidence and witness statements in real time.”
In 2018, NOAA fined an Alabama man $1,500 for touching a Hawaiian monk seal as well as harassing a sea turtle while vacationing on Kauai after his videos were posted to Instagram.
In that case, the man walked up to a sleeping monk seal on Poipu Beach at night and stroked it with his hand. He also posted a video of himself aggressively pursuing a sea turtle while snorkeling at Poipu.
NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement tracked the man down via his social media accounts, then issued the fine in an effort to educate him about laws protecting marine wildlife.
At the time, NOAA warned that people sneaking up on monk seals also risk injury because they are wild animals that can act unpredictably.
Hawaiian monk seals, a critically endangered species, are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act. Under Hawaii law, the harassment of a monk seal is considered a class C felony, punishable by imprisonment and fines.
In its viewing guidelines for marine wildlife in Hawaii, NOAA recommends staying at least 50 feet away from Hawaiian monk seals.
“It’s recommended everyone follow established viewing guidelines for monk seals and other marine wildlife,” said the state Department of Land and Natural Resources in a news release. “These guidelines have been developed to maximize human safety, seal safety, and legal compliance.”
To report suspected wildlife violations or to provide information relevant to an ongoing investigation, call the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement hotline at 800-853-1964 or DOCARE at 643-DLNR. Reports can also be made via the free DLNRTip app.