Death of Endangered Monk Seal Considered Suspicious

March 7, 2017, 8:09 AM HST · Updated March 7, 8:11 AM
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R4DP. Federal and state law enforcement authorities have launched an investigation into the death of a fifteen-year-old endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal found on the beach near ʻEleʻele on Kauai on February 23rd. PC: Hawaiʻi DLNR.

Federal and state law enforcement authorities have launched an investigation into the death of a fifteen-year-old endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal found on the beach near ʻEleʻele on Kauaʻi on February 23, 2017.

State and federal conservation enforcement officers say the seal’s death is suspicious because it had injuries inconsistent with any natural cause of death typically associated with month seals.

The female seal, known as R4DP, was in good health with no apparent disease.

Jeff Walters with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Pacific Islands Regional Office explained, “Although we’re waiting for final laboratory analysis, the preliminary necropsy (animal autopsy) on R4DP indicates this seal was in good health with no apparent disease or natural cause of death.”

R4DP. Federal and state law enforcement authorities have launched an investigation into the death of a fifteen-year-old endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal found on the beach near ʻEleʻele on Kauai on February 23rd. PC: Hawaiʻi DLNR.

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This is the 11th monk seal since 2009 found dead under suspicious circumstances. That means law enforcement authorities have good reason to suspect one or more people were directly involved and their activities were unauthorized or illegal.

Monk seal deaths due to interactions with fishing activities are considered in a different category, and the death of R4DP does not appear to be for this reason, according to authorities.

Hawai‘i’s native seals, numbering around 1400 left in the wild, are protected under both the federal Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act and by state law.

Violations under any of these laws can be charged either in criminal or civil court, with criminal convictions under the ESA carrying fines as high as $50,000, or imprisonment for up to a year, or both.

DOCARE Enforcement Chief, Robert Farrell said, “We can’t comment further on the specifics of this or previous open cases that are still under investigation, but we can assure people that both state and federal law enforcement officers continue to aggressively and thoroughly investigate these deaths in hopes of bringing the person or persons responsible to justice.”

This is the first reported suspicious death of a monk seal since 2014, when there was one death on O‘ahu and one on Kaua‘i, with both seals showing signs of significant trauma. A man was convicted of killing a seal on Kaua‘i in 2009.

“Hawaiian monk seals are precious to our state both naturally and culturally,” said DLNR Chair Suzanne Case. “It’s beyond comprehension that anyone could even consider beating or killing one of these rare mammals, as they’re resting or sleeping on a beach,” Case said.

Like with many monk seals around the state, R4DP was familiar to researchers and scientists. She was tagged as a young adult seal on Kaua‘i in the summer of 2008. Ten days later she was flown to O‘ahu for a health examination after it was believed she may have ingested a hook.  X-rays didn’t reveal anything, so she was returned to Kaua‘i and released.

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