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Warning: Whale Petting May Be Against The Law

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- A rare and once in a life-time encounter was caught on video, showing spectators reaching out and touching a grey whale.

They could be breaking the law.

While the whale watchers in the video were thrilled with the prospect of petting a whale in the wild, spokesperson for the Center for Biological Diversity, Steve Jones, is quite the opposite.

His initial reaction?

"Uh, kind of appalled. Especially because it's being presented as, 'how cute, you can pet the whales.'"

That's because it might be illegal.

The federal Marine Mammal Protection Act requires you to be 300 feet from whales and this video, taken by Anchor Charter Boats of Fort Bragg is obviously inside that space.

Not only that, but goes on to show tourists petting a gray whale.

"You really have to put this a lot on the company. They should know better. And you can face up to a $25,000 fine or lose a vessel."

KPIX 5 called the charter company asking about this, and owner. Captain Richard Thornton says he's within the law because the whale came to him*

As for the tourists, maximum punishment could be a $10,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

The law enforcement arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association says they are aware of the situation, but can't comment further, other than to say this is "a prime example of what not to do when you see a whale."

"It sends a bad message," he said. "Need them to keep their distance from us which will only happen if we keep our distance from them."

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