First of all, let me be clear that I’m in full support of members of the Kennedy clan embracing an impulse for water-based rescue missions, and always have been. Brothers Max Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. are rightly being shown leniency this week for a good deed that was technically a bit overzealous in the eyes of the law:

While the story of two Kennedy brothers rescuing an entangled leatherback turtle had a happy ending, wildlife officials caution it could have easily turned tragic and should be attempted only by experts.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Division of Fisheries has spoken with both Max Kennedy and his brother Robert F. Kennedy Jr. about the rescue of an estimated 500-pound turtle in the waters of Nantucket Sound over the Fourth of July weekend, said John Bullard, regional administrator.

The brothers have been “cooperative and very helpful” as the organization gathers pictures, gear and other evidence involved in the rescue, Bullard said.

“We’ve explained what they’ve done is a violation of the Endangered Species Act and we discourage people from doing it,” he said.

In a statement posted on NOAA’s website, Robert Kennedy expressed regret over their decision to save the animal themselves.

“When we spotted a sea turtle in trouble over the 4th of July weekend, our first impulse was to do what we could to help free the animal,” he said in the statement.

“But we realize that the action we took was pretty risky, these are large, powerful animals.”

The turtle had become entangled in a buoy line, and protocol is apparently to call a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hotline, so the authorities can deal with the reptiles, which can sometimes weigh up to 700 pounds. According to an NOAA official, it can be dangerous to untangle them without proper training, lest they get you tangled and dive with you deep below the surface. The rescue does look quite dicey in video:

My quibble with the authorities’ treatment of the Kennedys is that they don’t seem to be as forgiving of people who don’t belong to America’s foremost family of political royalty when they’re in the same situations.

In Indiana, a man faces possible jail time for trying to rehabilitate an ailing bald eagle.

In Virginia in 2011, an 11-year-old girl was greeted by at her home by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife officer and an armed state trooper for trying to save a woodpecker. She was fined more than $500.

Also in 2011, federal authorities were intent on dragging an Idaho man to court after he killed a grizzly bear on his property to protect his children, despite the fact that he called state wildlife authorities in good faith immediately after the shooting. The charges were dropped after public outcry, but he was fined $1,000 for violating the Endangered Species Act.

Many Americans are going to make occasional mistakes, in the eyes of the law, in dealing with wildlife. The law is sometimes complex and counterintuitive to folks just trying to do the right thing. But their good-faith efforts to save animals, or in more dire circumstances protect their families, should not immediately incur the full force of official overreaction. In the case of the Kennedys, some common-sense leniency was the immediate response. I wish it were the same for 11-year-olds in Virginia.

NOAA officials urge everyone to call the hotline instead of trying to rescue turtles:

With a higher number of animals in distress, the possibility of risky citizen intervention increases, Bullard said.

“And the wrong answer is, ‘We went in the water because the Kennedys did,'” he said of citizen rescues.

I can’t even with that quote, y’all.

Update: Another one to file under “Wildlife-related activities only Kennedys can do without political consequences.”