By Wendy Osher
State and federal authorities are investigating the suspicious deaths of two Hawaiian monk seals found recently on the south shore of Moloka‘i.
Necropsies indicate that both seals appear to have died under suspicious circumstances. Authorities say foul play cannot be ruled out as the cause in either case.
Officials with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources say a young female Hawaiian monk seal was found dead this past week. The discovery follows the death of an adult male seal in mid-November.
DLNR Chairperson, William Aila, Jr. said he was saddened to hear of the two incidents, “especially the loss of a young female who would have helped restore the diminished seal population,” said Aila.
“Monk seals are an important part of the Hawaiian ecosystem and need to be respected as a valued part of our natural and cultural environment. The harm to one is a blow to Hawai‘i,” he said.
Molokai resident Walter Ritte issued a statement saying the deaths are an “indication of a dangerous trend that must be stopped.”
Walter Ritte: “Our elders are saying that these seals are not Hawaiian. Our young people are calling these seals an invasive species brought in by government. The seals are now the easy targets of blame for the many ills of our depleting fisheries. We need to stand up for the truth: These seals are not only Hawaiian, but have been here longer than the Hawaiians. These seals are not invasive; they are like the Hawaiian people who are struggling to survive in their own lands. Hawaiians need to see themselves when they see a Hawaiian Monk Seal. How we treat the seals, is how we can be expected to be treated as Hawaiians in Hawaii.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in cooperation with the Department of Land and Natural Resources, is leading the investigation.
In June 2010, the state Legislature passed Act 165, increasing penalties for harassing or killing a monk seal. The crime is now classified as a Class C felony, punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment and potential fines of up to $50,000.
It is also against federal law to kill or harm a Hawaiian monk seal.
Anyone having information related to these deaths should call the NOAA OLE hotline at 1-800-853-1964 or the Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (808) 873-3990 or after hours, 643-DLNR.