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Monk Seal Killed at Mo’omomi

Last month, a young female Hawaiian monk seal was killed at Kawa’aloa Bay at  Mo’omomi, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The yearling seal, identified as RJ42, was found dead by community members on May 31. An investigation is underway so details of the cause of death cannot be released, but a post-mortem examination conducted by NOAA on June 1 indicated it was an intentional act.

“[The] injuries were purposely inflicted by a person(s) that caused a significant amount of trauma resulting in the monk seal’s death,” a NOAA statement said.

This is the sixth suspected monk seal killing on Molokai, and third at Mo’omomi, since 2009, according to NOAA.

“Unfortunately that statistic puts Molokai as the island with the most intentional killings, and Kauai as second,” said NOAA veterinarian Michelle Barbieri, adding that females are especially important to keeping the highly endangered species alive. “That’s what particularly devastating about this killing — it’s not just about that one female, but if she grew up to be a mom, we also lose her offspring and her grand-offspring. All of those females are really important in recovery [of the species]. Every single individual counts, especially females.”

The seal pictured here cruising in Molokai waters is not RJ42, the seal recently killed. Photo by Catherine Cluett Pactol

The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world and their population is declining, with only about 1,100 individuals left. Monk seals are native to Hawaii and found no where else. They are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, and state law in Hawaii.

“It’s not up to me or anyone to put words in someone’s mouth as to why someone would do this, but we do know there are misperceptions,” said Barbieri.”There are some really strongly held misperceptions out there and they take time to break down. We work hard now [to educate] and we have more work to do, and communities can help us with that message.”

Contrary to the myth that monk seals eat their weight in fish each day, they only eat about four to eight percent of their body weight daily, scientists have found. And while some fisherman may feel they are competing with the seals for food, NOAA states that the seals eat a wide variety of species, many of which are not targeted by fishermen and often dive to depths much greater than fishermen catch.

“I think the most important thing is monk seals do belong here as part of our ecosystem, they’re integral to keeping it healthy,” said Barbieri. “It’s important to get out more information about monk seals where they’re recolonizing their former range [in the Main Hawaiian Islands] and people are learning to adapt and seals are learning to adapt.”

But with six monk seals killed on Molokai in the last nine years, the statistics are discouraging for many. Barbieri said trauma seems to be an ” underlying theme.” One of those deaths resulted from a gunshot wound, but the majority were caused by blunt force trauma, she said.

Barbieri pointed out that though Molokai is getting an unfortunate reputation when it comes to monk seal deaths, “we recognize that by and large, monk seals are recognized and valued on Molokai.” She said there’s “a good population” of monk seals that frequent Molokai and use the island as a protected habitat to breed, especially in Kalaupapa.

“If anyone has any information [on the killing], we’re very keen to hear it and we have an anonymous tip line,” said Barbieri. “We would like to better understand why these things happen.”

Anyone with information that might be helpful in the investigation is encouraged to call the NOAA enforcement hotline at 1-800-853-1964, or send an email to respectwildlife@noaa.gov. Reports can be made anonymously. NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement may offer a reward to any person who furnishes information which leads to an arrest, conviction, or civil penalty assessment.



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