Monk Seal Dies at Hale O Lono
A juvenile monk seal rests at Dixie Maru Beach while two people walk by, unaware that they should keep a 100-foot distance from the endangered animal.
Juvenile female a sad loss to Hawaii’s seal population.
By Léo Azambuja
The already slim population of Hawaiian monk seals took a serious blow. A young female born in Kalaupapa last April was found dead at Hale O Lono on Jan. 19.
The highly-endangered marine mammal is endemic to Hawaii. David Schofield, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, said the seal population is estimated at 1,200. However, the majority of the population inhabits the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Only 80-100 seals inhabit the major Hawaiian Islands.
“It’s a great loss to the seal population, especially because it was a young female,” said Schofield, who is NOAA’s marine mammal response coordinator.
The young female seal was born on April 24, and had not reached sexual maturity yet. “Female seals don’t breed until they are four or five-years-old,” Schofield said.
NOAA Fisheries was notified after a Molokai resident saw the dead seal at Hale O Lono.
Schofield flew to Molokai the same day to investigate the incident. He said the body was in good condition, and that the seal probably died in the morning of the day it was discovered. Schofield said he cannot say the cause of death until the autopsy is finished.
Dwindling fish resources throughout the major islands might have been a fact a factor that pushed the majority of the seal population to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. However, Molokai’s resourceful fishing grounds, especially at the remote La`au Point, are a lure to Hawaiian monk seals.
There are at least eight seals that are spotted constantly at La`au Point. The seals swim as far as the Penguin Banks to find food, and are hardly a threat to Molokai’s coastal fishing resources.
Some monk seals may have their flippers tagged with identification numbers. Even though the staff at NOAA Fisheries would like to track the seal population, humans should never get too close to read the tags. “If you see a monk seal, call us at (808) 220-7802,” Schofield said.
Last week Thursday a West End resident saw a seal lying on top of dry reef at the end of Papohaku Beach. The seal appeared to be in bad shape, according to him. The resident, who asked not to be identified, said he called authorities, but no one showed up. He, along with a neighbor, decided to coax the seal back into the ocean by pulling it by its tail. The seal eventually swam away. However, the resident said the seal was almost dead, and probably did not survive.
Monk seals come ashore to rest and can be easily disturbed by human interaction. If a startled seal swims to the ocean, it can become an easy prey for sharks, its main predator. Also, dogs and humans can transmit diseases to seals, which could easily bring the seals to extinction, according to NOAA Fisheries.
NOAA Fisheries mission says the government agency is dedicated to the stewardship of living marine resources through science-based conservation and management, and the promotion of healthy ecosystems.
On April 19 NOAA will promote a statewide Hawaiian monk seal count; from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Schofield said he will provide appropriate training and tools to volunteers. Those interested in participating should call Schofield at (808) 944-2269.