LIHU‘E — The beachgoer filmed touching a Hawaiian monk seal will pay a $500 fine for her actions.
Viral footage of the woman, identified as a visitor from Louisiana named Lakyn by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, sparked outrage earlier this month. Lakyn’s surname was withheld by the Star-Advertiser, which reported Lakyn and her husband, Stephen, received death threats in the wake of the incident.
“NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement found the subject to be in violation of the Endangered Species Act,” a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokesperson told The Garden Island. “Pending the payment of this summary settlement, the investigation will be officially closed.”
Only 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals are alive today, according to NOAA. Harassment of the animal is a Class C felony in the state of Hawai‘i, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine.
Lakyn and Stephen’s payment of the $500 fine does not preclude the couple from prosecution, according to Kaua‘i Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar.
“The fact that they have been assessed this fine by NOAA does not mean that they cannot or will not be prosecuted under state or federal law,” he told The Garden Island on Wednesday, noting his office requires copies of the NOAA investigation, “before we can decide whether criminal charges on our end are appropriate.”
The couple’s video, and separate footage of a man touching a seal elsewhere in the state, prompted a strong reaction from state and federal officials.
“Our marine animals are both culturally important and ecologically unique to Hawai‘i. They should be treated with respect, always, both for the people of Hawai‘i and for general animal welfare,” Brian Neilson, administrator for the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources, said at a July 16 press conference. “… The people of Hawai‘i live around these animals daily. They’re part of our lives, our culture and our identity. Harassing them for fun, or a photo op, or the post on social media is incredibly disrespectful.”
On July 11, Kollar retweeted Lakyn’s interaction with the seal. The seven-second video, shot on an unidentified Kaua‘i beach, shows her running away after the disturbed animal snaps its jaws.
“Any and all who harass our endangered species do so at their peril,” Kollar wrote. “This is a felony under Hawai‘i law punishable by fines and up to 5 years in prison. And we will enforce.”
DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement Chief Jason Redulla has recommended witnesses to wildlife harassment use the “DLNRTip” smartphone app; the DOCARE hotline at 643-DLNR; or the NOAA hotline at 888-256-9840 to make a report.