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Suspicious deaths of endangered Hawaiian monk seals under investigation

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Suspicious deaths of endangered Hawaiian monk seals under investigation
Image via directoryofkauai.net

Apr 26, 2012

HONOLULU, Hawaii - The Department of Land and Natural Resources and NOAA Fisheries announced this week that a three-year-old male monk seal was found dead Sunday on a northeast Kaua‘i beach. The death has been classified as “suspicious.” The DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement and NOAA Office of Law Enforcement are investigating the case. It is the latest in a number of suspicious monk seal deaths that began in November 2011 on Moloka`i.

Hawaiian monk seals are one of the world’s most endangered animals, with population estimates less than 1,100. Hawaiian monk seals are endemic to Hawai‘i and, therefore, found nowhere else in the world.

Spurred on by the previous deaths, community groups have rallied in recent months to increase education about the plight of the Hawaiian monk seal, Hawai‘i’s official state marine mammal, and to help promote co-existence with this critical endangered species in Hawaiian waters. A coalition of nonprofit organizations, identified as the Aloha Kanaloa Coalition, recently developed a public service announcement to help promote their message of nonviolence and co-existence. “Traditional Hawaiian values taught us the importance of sharing and living together sustainability; we simply want people to remember and embrace our traditional values when it comes to how we treat and behave towards the monk seals,” explained Trisha Kehaulani Watson, a member of the Coalition.

DLNR supports this group’s efforts. “Monk seals are a vital part of Hawai‘i’s marine and cultural environment,” said William J. Aila, Jr., DLNR Chairperson, “We must all come together to share the message that harm to seals is unacceptable and that humans and seals must learn to co-exist peacefully together. Only then can there be hope for the future of the monk seal, including a new pup just born this week on Kaua‘i. That message is featured in a new public service announcement now being aired on local television stations and online at http://www.alohakanaloacoalition.org/ .

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and The Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust announced continued support of the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement’s work to combat poaching and designated wildlife-related crimes by sponsoring a toll-free, confidential reward tip line, 1-855-DLNR-TIP.

The tip line allows individuals statewide to confidentially report information about poaching crimes to law enforcement.

The first case under the new reward program and tip line was announced in January and involved three monk seal deaths on Moloka‘i. A fourth monk seal was later found dead on Kaua‘i. Necropsies performed on three of the four seals confirmed the deaths were suspicious. These cases, along with the newest reported death on Kaua‘i, remain under investigation. Anyone with information about these cases is asked to call the confidential reward tip line.

The HSUS, Conservation Council for Hawai‘I, and the Center for Biological Diversity have again posted a US$10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for the monk seal deaths. Earlier standing contributions from these groups, the Marine Conservation Institute, and a generous anonymous local donor, bring the reward total from US$30,000 to US$40,000, or US$10,000 per confirmed incident.

“We thank the HSUS for their continued sponsorship of this program, which helps protect Hawaii’s precious wildlife,” said Randy Awo, DOCARE Chief.

In June 2010, the Legislature passed Act 165, specifically to increase penalties for taking (which is defined to include harassing or killing) a monk seal. It's a Class C felony (up to 5 years imprisonment). Someone convicted under this law could face a maximum fine of US$50,000. Monk seals are also protected under the federal Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act, which makes it a crime to kill or harm a Hawaiian monk seal.

Source: conservehi.org



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