Another endangered Hawaiian monk seal has been killed. Sunday's discovery of a slain seal on a beach in Kauai marks the fourth time in six months that one of these rare animals -- there are just 1,100 left in the wild -- has turned up dead under disturbing circumstances, including some that may have been shot or bludgeoned.
The killings are an atrocity in their own right but also have profound implications for this critically endangered species: Hawaiian monk seals are teetering on the brink of extinction and the loss of just a few could tragically tip the scales against their survival.
Those who love the seals have put out a handsome reward for information leading to the conviction of the seal killer. Unfortunately, there are others who view seals as intruders, and I worry that's what's driving this latest spate of violence.
Seals in recent years have come back to the main Hawaiian Islands, showing up on popular beaches such as Waikiki and Poipu and having healthy pups. This resurgence is an important counterbalance to the seals that are dying out in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands where pups only have a one-in-five chance of survival. Yet, hope dims with each seal slaying. What seemed to be their best chance for recovery -- their comeback on the Main Hawaiian Islands -- has been dealt a brutal blow by the hand of a human.
Why would anyone kill an endangered species, risking a federal felony and huge fine? Though adorable, Hawaiian monk seals are entrenched in controversy. Although monk seals are native to Hawaii -- it's the only place they exist in the whole world -- false stories are spreading that the seals are invasive. And fishermen tell of aggressive seals trying to steal their catch. Further, monk seals have become a political issue, and local politicians have issued statements and pursued legislation against seal protections.
But, as Moloka'i resident Walter Ritte points out in his statement,
"These seals are not invasive; they are like the Hawaiian people who are struggling to survive in their own lands. Hawaiians need to see themselves when they see a Hawaiian monk seal. How we treat the seals is how we can be expected to be treated as Hawaiians in Hawaii."
Killing a monk seal, which is protected by the Endangered Species Act, is a crime. It also cripples the recovery of these amazing animals that are perilously close to extinction. It also distracts from real solutions to our depleted fisheries and threats to communities that depend on the sea. When so much is at risk, the way forward must be vigilance from the community local and afar to respect Hawaiian monk seals and ensure their survival. We must all be part of that effort -- and halting these senseless killings is an important first step.
Call 1-855-DLNR-TIP with any info on who is killing Hawaiian monk seals. The Humane Society of the U.S., Conservation Council for Hawai'i and the Center for Biological Diversity have posted a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for this monk seal death, increasing the total reward offering for all four suspicious incidents to $40,000.
(Photo courtesy of Monica Bond with permit from NOAA.)