Two More Monk Seals Dead
The deaths of two young male Hawaiian monk seals on Molokai in June are being investigated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This comes after a young female was killed at Mo’omomi in May, with injuries showing human-inflicted trauma as the cause of her death.
An unidentified juvenile male was found dead at Paka’a beach on Molokai’s west end on June 25. The other young male, identified as RJ26, was born at Kalaupapa last year and found dead on June 18 on the east end near mile marker 22. NOAA’s Jolene Lau said no other details could be released at this time, pending the investigation.
This brings the total deaths believed to be from human inflicted trauma on Molokai to eight, since 2009, according to NOAA.
NOAA veterinarian Michelle Barbieri said in an interview last month that Molokai has the most intentional Hawaiian monk seal killings of any island, with Kauai as second.
“There is a lot of bad information regarding the history of seals in Hawaii, and now our precious ohana of the ocean are being killed, not for food, but out of anger and frustration,” said Molokai’s Walter Ritte.
The presence of monk seals has raised tensions with some fishermen who believe the seals are competing with them for their catch. But 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. 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.
In a widely shared Facebook post, La’a Poepoe, whose family helps care for Mo’omomi, called on fellow fishermen to coexist with the seals and use them as a good example of subsistence practices.
“As traditional practitioners of lawai’a, we coexist to lawai’a along with the sila [seal], not against them,” he wrote on Facebook, printed with permission. “Just like any other ocean mammal, they cannot hunt pig/deer/goat, raise cattle, farm vegetables, steal their neighbors mangos, qualify for EBT, or store excess fish in the freezer. They [are] the most subsistent of subsistence lawai’a possible, they only catch as much as they can eat. To think they responsible for declining fish populations is an insult to our collective human intellect. Reevaluate the situation, you going find out the real problem is us.”
Ritte said looking to the past will help bring better understanding to our relationship with monk seals.
“We need to get the true history of the seals, just as we need to get the true history of who we are as Kanaka,” said Ritte. “What happens to the seals will happen to Kanaka, we will both become extinct because of ignorance.”
Hawaiian monk seals are estimated to have inhabited the Hawaiian archipelago for approximately 14 million years, before humans populated the islands. In the Hawaiian language, they are often referred to as ‘īlioholoikauaua, or “dog running in the rough seas,” though many variations have been found in ‘oli and Hawaiian newspapers. One mo’olelo calls the seal ‘īlioholoikauaua-a-Lono, referencing it in association with the god Lono, according to “Historical and Contemporary Significance of the Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal in Native Hawaiian Culture.”
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. They are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, and state law in Hawaii.
NOAA asks that if anyone has information on who caused the monk seal deaths or to report marine mammals and sea turtles in trouble, please call 888-256-9840.