Save Our Seals
Plus update with Molokai’s favorite seal.
With a dwindling Hawaiian monk seal population, federal officials are proposing a new plan to improve the survival of the endangered species. However, some Molokai fishermen say they are worried the plan could come at their expense.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is preparing a programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) for an action plan that seeks to relocate monk seals to Molokai and other islands.
The NFMS is considering moving recently-weaned female pups from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) to the Main Hawaiian Islands (MHI) for three years. During this time, the seals would be released among wild pups and be monitored and studied before being returned to their respective islands.
Representatives of the NMFS were on island last week to gather public opinion for the PEIS, which will evaluate the impacts of the proposed activities. While some fisherman felt the recovery program has good intentions, they also spoke of how it could be detrimental to their business.
that the seals are a nuisance and eating the fish right out of the nets.”
Ching suggested the idea of establishing a breeding center in the NWHI, in hopes to satisfy both parties.
“It’s just a thought, but NOAA seems to have deep pockets,” Ching said. “…It would be a safe environment and there would be no human interaction.”
Walter Naki agreed, stating that human interaction would be difficult to avoid if more seals were brought to Molokai.
“We don’t want to criminalize people,” he said. “I like the part about saving seals but don’t want to see one innocent fisherman put in jail.”
According to NMFS, 60 to 90 percent of NWHI seals die by the age of three. However, research has shown that MHI seals do well, with 60 percent surviving to adulthood. Jeff Walters, of the NMFS, said a reason for this could be that there are less predators and competitors on MHI.
The primary focus of the seal recovery program is to modify seal behavior, decrease human socialization, and improve female survival.
“The thing about wildlife species is you need females to have pups to keep the species going,” Walters added.
If implemented, the program would be launched no earlier than 2012 and would begin with a trial phase of a few pups. The public has until Nov. 15 to submit written comment before the PEIS is drafted and published. For more information go to www.nmfs.noaa.gov and search for the Hawaiian monk seal recovery program.
Of the 1,200 Hawaiian monk seals that remain, Ho`ailona, affectionately known as KP2, is doing well and is now stable with his eye condition.
At his current home at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), Ho`ailona is still being considered for surgery for his cataracts, but depends on if he returns to the Hawaiian Islands.
Dr. Terrie Williams, director of the Marine Mammal Physiology project at UCSC, said she and NMFS are still in discussion about Ho`ailona’s future and when he will return to Hawaii.
She said the question remains of where to place him. Sea Life Park has been the most talked about location thus far. It has not been decided whether Ho`ailona would be returned to Molokai.
“My understanding is that construction of a pool is what is slowing his travel back to the islands,” she added. “We’ve been working on Ho`ailona’s training to help him make the transition to a new island home. It would help to know where that home is.”