A Louisiana couple has apologized and will pay a fine after a TikTok video shows a woman touching an endangered Hawaiian monk seal at a beach in Hawaii.
The video sparked outrage from Hawaii residents after it was circulated on social media. It had been viewed more than 37,000 times on @hhhviral on Instagram as of Monday afternoon.
The husband, Stephen, said he and his wife, Lakyn, have received death threats and requested their last name not be published. His wife’s TikTok account has since been set to private.
“We’re deeply sorry,” Stephen said Monday during a phone interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “We love Hawaii and the culture. We didn’t mean to offend anyone. We respect the culture.”
The video shows Lakyn touching a monk seal in June at a beach on Kauai. As soon as she touches the resting seal, it raises its head and snaps at her. Lakyn screams and runs away from the seal.
The couple were on Kauai for their honeymoon after they got married in Kapalua, Maui. Stephen noted it was the first time they saw a Hawaiian monk seal and that they were unaware of the laws pertaining to the endangered species. “We didn’t see no signs. We didn’t know anything but I know that’s no excuse,” he said.
Stefanie Gutierrez, spokeswoman of NOAA Fisheries, Pacific Islands Regional Office, said NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement is actively investigating the incident.
Stephen said NOAA authorities contacted the couple Sunday and assessed an undisclosed fine.
“We sincerely apologize if we offended any locals. The last thing we want to do is disrespect anyone or anybody’s culture or lifestyle. That’s something we’re really, really sorry about,” he said.
“We’re animal lovers. We weren’t trying to cause any harm or threaten or scare any animals,” Stephen added. “We’re deeply sorry. We’ll learn from this mistake.”
It is considered a Class C felony to touch or harass a Hawaiian monk seal under state and federal laws. Violators face penalties of up to five years in prison and up to a $50,000 fine.
In April 2018 NOAA fined an Alabama man $1,500 after he posted videos on Instagram of himself touching an endangered Hawaiian monk seal and harassing a sea turtle while vacationing on Kauai.
The Hawaiian monk seal population is protected by the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act.
There are an estimated 1,400 monk seals living — approximately 1,100 in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and 300 in the main Hawaiian Islands.
NOAA recommends the public view monk seals from at least 50 feet away. For additional information on marine wildlife viewing guidelines, visit 808ne.ws/marinelifeviewing.