SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) — A woman is being criticized after posting a video on social media of her petting a sea lion in La Jolla.
The video making the rounds on Instagram appears to show the woman attempting to pet the sea lion and it reacts violently.
It's against federal law to harass them by either injuring them or disturbing where they live in the wild.
The video was posted in January, but it's not known when it was taken.
The woman in the video was a visitor from Kansas and captioned it with "That time when I seriously thought that petting a sleeping sea lion was a brilliant idea."
She later responded to a comment saying, "like a fool I didn't think he would wake."
After News 8 reached out to her, the woman set her profile to private.
The Instagram video is under review by law enforcement.
Sea lions and seals are not endangered but are federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
It was passed in the '70s when their populations were dwindling.
Experts say the act has been successful in helping to bring them from the brink.
La Jolla is a popular spot to take pictures of sea lions, but signs are posted at most entrances to the cove warning against touching animals.
Lifeguards, city park rangers and federal law enforcement all monitor for people getting too close.
The fine for violating the act is up to $11,000.
NOAA recommends people stay 50 yards away from sea lions and seals.
To learn about how to safely - and legally - view marine wildlife, click here.
The City of San Diego released the following statement regarding the incident:
The City of San Diego recommends the public keep a safe distance from sea lions hauled out in La Jolla Cove for their own safety and the safety of the animals. While they may look friendly and docile, sea lions are wild animals and have been known to bite, snap or chase people if they feel afraid or threatened which can result in serious injury. Additionally, while there is an effort to educate the public about the potential dangers of encroaching on marine life, a person can be cited per the City municipal code depending on the severity of the harassment.
A person can also be cited by NOAA in violation of federal law per the Marine Mammal Protection Act which can be punishable by criminal penalties up to $100,000 and one-year incarceration. Civil penalties up to $11,000 per count may also be assessed.
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