The attorney for a man who slapped a Hawaiian monk seal while visiting Oahu several months ago has issued an apology on behalf of his client.
Attorney Blake Long of Barnwell & Long PLLC in North Carolina said the young man, who he advised to remain anonymous to avoid severe backlash, has paid fines from federal and state agencies in full for his violation of the Endangered Species Act. He did not disclose the amount paid.
Long said his client requested that he issue the apology “to express his sincere remorse for his immature, inexcusable actions.”
In February, officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement, as well as the state Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, began investigating an incident posted to TikTok, which showed a man approaching a monk seal from behind, leaning over, and then slapping it in the hindquarters.
The incident was also shared on other social media platforms, including Instagram.
“While this is an incident that my client wishes to leave behind, he is also hopeful that his mistake will be used as an example of the types of conduct tourists must avoid when encountering wildlife,” said the statement. “It is imperative that one maintains a respectful distance when observing all animals so as not to cause a disruption, potential harm or agitation to the animal or its environment.”
The statement continues: “The hope of my client and of the law enforcement officers involved in this matter is that my client’s brief lapse of judgment serves as a lesson that ultimately aids in the protection of both the indigenous species of Hawaii and those who are fortunate enough to observe them personally. To all who were dismayed at my client’s actions, please accept this apology expressing my client’s utmost regret and learn from his example as to the respect and care that must be afforded to wildlife not only in Hawaii, but across the world.”
NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement responded with its own statement, warning that more seals may actually be resting on Hawaii shorelines due to the “stay-at-home” orders during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Hawaiian Monk seals are endangered species and are protected by state and federal law,” said NOAA. “Harassing a protected species has serious consequences. This is a friendly reminder for our ocean users that the animals do frequent beaches to rest and with less beach traffic, you are seeing more animals come ashore to rest and sun themselves.”
In its viewing guidelines for marine wildlife in Hawaii, NOAA recommends staying at least 50 feet away from Hawaiian monk seals.
“There is no need to get close — your sudden movements may cause them to either flush into the water, or charge you,” said NOAA. “It is best to view them from afar. Use binoculars or your camera’s zoom lens for a close up photo.”
The Hawaiian monk seals — with a population of about 1,400 — 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.
Anyone who witnesses someone harassing monk seals can report the incident to the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement hotline at 1-800-853-1964.