Molokai Monk Seal Shot Dead
A young female seal known as “L11” found dead on Molokai on Sept. 19 is confirmed to have died from a gunshot wound to the head. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced the results of its postmortem analyses Tuesday.
“Specifically, we found a bullet fragment in association with evidence of severe, lethal trauma,” NOAA stated. “We are waiting on test results to see if L11 had any diseases, but we do not expect the results to change these conclusions.”
The seal’s death marks the third confirmed intentional killing of a monk seal on Molokai in 2021, with several other seal deaths investigated on the island this year.
“Make no mistake, folks, these intentional killings are evil, despicable acts perpetrated against an endangered animal in its own, natural habitat,” said Jason Redulla, chief of DLNR’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, during a press conference Tuesday. “Those responsible must be held accountable. We hope that by making this announcement that people will come forward with information that leads us to the identify of those responsible.”
Earlier this year, two young male seals, both found dead on April 27 on the island’s west end, were determined to have died from human-inflicted blunt force trauma, with full examinations conducted by NOAA.
Previously, two other adult males discovered dead on Molokai on May 24, 2020 and Jan. 29, 2021 respectively, as well as an adult female on Feb. 1, 2021, were found with bodies heavily decomposed, leading to inconclusive causes of death. Another dead female seal found on May 25 of this year also died of unknown causes due to its carcass being washed out to sea, according to NOAA. However, all four of these inconclusive deaths are considered open cases for law enforcement because of similarities to other cases, NOAA said.
L11’s body was found along Molokai’s south shore on Sept. 19 and reported by a resident.
“We are grateful for the quick response mounted by community members who are part of Hawaii Marine Animal Response, the State of Hawaii, and others,” stated NOAA. “These individuals ensured that L11’s carcass was collected promptly and preserved in fresh condition, which enhanced the quality of postmortem analyses.”
L11 was born last year in Kalaupapa. Hawaii Marine Animal Response Molokai Outreach Coordinator Todd Yamashita said the yearling seal had been known to haul out on lawns and sandy parking lots on the east side of Molokai, describing her as curious and healthy.
Though some believe that seals “steal” fish from fishermen, Yamashita said that isn’t true.
“The fact of the matter is that these seals eat about a pound of food per square mile and majority of their hunting occurs far offshore,” he said. “The idea that the seals are taking fish off our table is just as misplaced as saying that the sharks are eating all the fish in the ocean. It’s simply untrue. Most of us here have great respect for these animals and realize the seals play an important role in our ecosystem and that it is our kuleana to practice respect and stewardship toward these seals and all living things.”
NOAA called Molokai partners “resilient and dedicated stewards of Hawaiian monk seals.”
“We are committed to continuing our engagement with partners and community members to exchange information and support protection of natural resources and cultural traditions on Molokai,” NOAA stated in its release.
Hawaiian monk seals are highly endangered and only about 1400 individuals are alive today, found only in Hawaii, where they have lived for millions of years. They are protected under federal and state law, and it is illegal to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect them.
Anyone with information about the deaths of Hawaiian monk seals should contact the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement hotline at (800) 853-1964.
NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement may issue rewards to individuals who provide information that leads to an arrest or conviction.