Hawaii officials see troubling rise in reports of marine life harassment


HONOLULU (KHON) — Marine life officials in Hawaii are concerned about an increasing number of harassment reports against endangered species of marine life.

Viewer video recently taken at Shark Pit Beach in Lahaina, Maui, shows a person splashing a Hawaiian monk seal with water until it is forced back into the ocean.

The monk seal, named Kaiwi, had recently given birth to a pup, and now Kaimana Beach in Waikiki has been blocked off to give the new mom and baby some space.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says it is investigating the incident seen on the video that was shared with KHON, adding that it is far from a rare occurrence.

“We actually have seen an increase in reports of alleged disturbance in harassments compared to recent years since the pandemic,” said Adam Kurtz, wildlife management coordinator for NOAA Fisheries.

Harassing a Hawaiian monk seal is illegal and comes with serious penalties.

“Your penalties could go up to more than $50,000, or it could be a simple summary settlement notice less than $1,000 or depending on how egregious that violation is,” said Martina Sagapolu, of the law enforcement division of NOAA Fisheries.

Also, getting too close could have a big impact on the animal.

“It could cause reproductive issues. It can use up precious energy that they need to survive. It can disturb other important behaviors that they have, like resting or caring for their young or feeding,” Kurtz said.

Officials ask that people keep a safe distance.

“For dolphins and small whales, it’s 50 yards. For humpback whales, it’s 100 yards and for monk seals, we usually say about 50 feet,” said Kurtz.

Bystanders can make sure they are far enough away by using what the NOAA calls “the thumb rule” if there are no barriers around.

“Simply make a “thumbs-up” gesture and extend your arm out straight in front of you, with your thumb parallel to the ground. If your thumb covers the entire seal, you are far enough away,” according to the NOAA.

Beachgoers who go into the water also should be mindful of marine life.

“We all want to enjoy the beaches, we all want to enjoy the waters. If you can do so, while respecting the animals that are there, it will be a win-win for all,” Sagapolu said.

To report a violation to NOAA call their hotline at (800)-853-1964 or click here.

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