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Endangered Hawaiian monk seal shot in the head on Molokaʻi

mele exploring behind naupaka hawaiian monk seal
Hawaii Marine Animal Response
/
NOAA
RM90 exploring on the beach around naupaka plants (Hawaiian native plant).

HONOLULU — An endangered Hawaiian monk seal found dead on Molokaʻi in September was intentionally shot and killed, federal officials said Tuesday.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said in a statement that the young female seal suffered a gunshot wound to its head.

This was the third intentional killing of a monk seal on the rural island in 2021 and the seventh in the past 10 years, according to NOAA. Two others were killed by “blunt force trauma” on Molokaʻi in April.

“These intentional killings of this endangered species is devastating to the recovery of this population,” NOAA said.

There are only a few hundred monk seals left in the main Hawaiian Islands. About 1,100 more live in the remote, uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The endangered seals are found nowhere else.

The causes of death for several other seals on the island were inconclusive because of decomposition or the carcasses washing out to sea before examinations could be conducted.

Killing the endangered species is a state and federal crime and the deaths are being investigated. Historically, monk seals have sometimes been perceived as a nuisance or competition to people who are fishing.

At a news conference Tuesday, state officials said they have no indication of who might be responsible for the “egregious” killings.

“Make no mistake folks, these intentional killings are evil, despicable acts perpetrated against an endangered animal in its own natural habitat,” said Hawaiʻi’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement Chief Jason Redulla. “Those responsible must be held accountable.”

The killings are felonies that carry a penalty of up to five years in prison, Redulla said.

Suzanne Case, the chair of Hawaiʻi's Department of Land and Natural Resources, noted local outrage at visitors who harassed monk seals earlier this year and called for a similar response to the killing of the seal that was shot in the head.

“It is past time for anyone who has information on the killing of this seal and the others to step forward,” Case said. “Earlier this year many people were outraged when a visitor slapped a seal on the back, and we trust the level of indignation we saw associated with that incident will be exceeded by the despicable shooting of (this seal) and the others taken by human hands.”

Anyone with information can contact the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement hotline at 800-853-1964 or the DLNR hotline at 808-643-DLNR (3567) or via the DLNRTip app.

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