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Hawaii officials seeking information on monk seal harassment incidents seen on social media

Nina Wu

State officials are urging the public not to disturb endangered Hawaiian monk seals resting on shorelines while seeking more information on three incidents — two in Nanakuli and one in East Oahu — depicted in recent social media posts.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources on Tuesday said the posts showed these three alarming incidents over the past three days:

>> A person driving a lifted truck on the beach near Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline in East Oahu appears to disturb a seal resting nearby.

>> At Nanakuli beach, a man is seen handling a resting seal, causing it to move quickly away from him.

>> At Nanakuli beach, an anonymous tipster reported loose dogs coming within a few feet of a resting seal.

“With the reopening of beaches recently, it is critically important that everyone gives resting seals wide-berth,” said DOCARE Chief Jason Redulla in a news release. “This is both for the safety of people and seals. They are powerful animals and have been known to strike back at people who approach them too closely or harass them. Touching or harassing Hawaiian monk seals, including having loose dogs in close proximity to these critically endangered mammals is a violation of both state and federal laws and can result in high fines and jail time.”

Just last week, DLNR asked ATV riders not to off-road in a cordoned-off area at Kekaha Kai State Park because a recently weaned monk seal pup — Hiwahiwa — was in the area.

Earlier this month, the owner of two dogs was cited by DOCARE officers for walking them off-leash on an East Oahu beach. The dogs barked at and approached a monk seal resting in the area, causing it to flee into the water.

In February, DOCARE and the law enforcement arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration investigated 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 shared on other social media platforms, including Instagram, and led to fines as well as severe backlash for the male visitor to Oahu. The attorney for the man, who wished to remain anonymous, said he paid the fines in full, and issued a public apology in April.

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 its viewing guidelines for marine wildlife in Hawaii, NOAA recommends staying at least 50 feet away from Hawaiian monk seals.

Hawaiian monk seals are a critically endangered species protected by state and federal laws. Under Hawaii law, the harassment of a monk seal is considered a class C felony, punishable by imprisonment and fines.

Anyone with information on these incidents or others should call 643-DLNR (3567) or report it via the free DLNRTip app. Monk seal sightings can be reported to the NOAA hotline at 888-256-9840.

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