HONOLULU (KHON2) — “Absolutely unacceptable,” were some of the strong words that came from Gov. David Ige on Wednesday, July 14, as videos of visitors touching Hawaiian monk seals continue to surface on social media.

Gov. David Ige released this statement:

“I’ve seen an increase in distressing videos recently of what appears to be visitors to our state touching and disturbing our endangered native Hawaiian monk seals. I want to be clear that this behavior is absolutely unacceptable. Visitors to our islands – you’re asked to respect our people, culture, and laws protecting endangered species that are found nowhere else in the world. For those who don’t, make no mistake, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Gov. David Ige

“Anytime we see visitors doing this sort of stuff, it’s disappointing, it’s disrespectful and it’s illegal,” said Kalani Ka’ana’ana, chief brand officer of the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA).

The HTA and Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) came together in 2019 to create a series of videos to educate visitors — including one that directly referenced monk seals.

Ka’ana’ana says the videos are shared on airplanes and in hotel rooms.

“We also do target messaging on Instagram and Facebook to visitors to make sure that we’re putting this message at every place we can think of to get the message across,” Ka’ana’ana said.

The Oahu Surfrider Foundation said more needs to be done to guarantee visitors are seeing the message, however.

“I think the more resources we can give people, the better, but I think as we’re rolling out these resources, we need to take an honest look about whether or not they’re efficient,” said Kari Goodbar, secretary for the Oahu Surfrider Foundation. “If they’re not working,then maybe try another approach.”

Then middle-schooler Rylee Brooke Kamahele worked with local lawmakers in 2019 to come up with the Promise to our Keiki Bill. It would have required every incoming flight to Hawaii to show a video about the state’s wildlife and the laws protecting them. It would also have made visitors sign a pledge.

“A pledge just to be able to hold them accountable saying, you can’t say that you didn’t know, because you did sign this and we were going to just add that onto the agricultural form,” said Rylee Brooke Kamahele, a community activist.

Efforts to advance the proposal have stalled but authorities say the fact remains: The law is the law when it comes to protecting Hawaii’s wildlife.

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” said Justin Kollar, Kauai prosecuting attorney. “I know there is signage, certainly at most beaches where monk seals are known to hang out. The signage is there, it’s quite clear, don’t disturb them. These laws exist for a reason, monk seals are critically endangered and they need to be protected. We will do everything we can to protect them.”

Anyone who sees illegal activity is asked to call the NOAA hotline at (888)-256-9840.