Hawaii’s Endangered Monk Seals Are Mysteriously Shot

Leave this monk seal alone. Photo: Andre Seale (AP)

As if you needed one more reason to be mad at the world in 2021, there has been a spate of seal killings in Hawaii. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed this week that a young monk seal found dead on Molokai Island in September was shot in the head. The tragedy marks at least the third time a monk seal has been killed by humans on the island this year, and the seventh in the past 10 years.

“These deliberate killings of this endangered species are devastating to the recovery of this population,” the agency said in a statement. rack.

The seal whose death NOAA was investigating was a young female known as L11. Her body was found earlier this year by a dentist who was walking her dogs. Todd Yamashita, an operations manager for the nonprofit Hawaii Marine Animal Response on Molokai told the Honolulu Civil Beat in October that he had been watching L11 since she was born; when he heard she died, he said, he wept.

“I knew she was going to be in trouble,” Yamashita said. “She was too friendly, too curious.”

I am not normally one to support vigilance and wish conservationists the best of luck in solving this case. But should the need arise, my fists are ready to do justice to L11. NOAA said some of the other monk seal deaths it recorded this year that it failed to conclude were intentional; these “are considered open cases for law enforcement,” the agency noted. All in all, 10 seals have died this year, including two newborns – a percentage that worries officials.

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There are only about 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals left in the wild, making them “one of the most endangered seal species in the world.” according to NOAA. They are the only tropical seal species left behind on the planet. The seal population is spread over about 300 on the main islands and another 1,100 clustered on the smaller, unpopulated northwestern part of the island chain. The seals have faced two waves of danger: Once upon a time in the 19th century, when hunters first arrived on the island, and the ecological damage of the 20th and 21st centuries caused by human changes to their habitat. Fishing nets and parasites currently pose the greatest threat to the endangered seals. But tourists are also a problem, including a man who paid federal fines this year posting a TikTok of his friend hitting a seal. This person is lucky that the legal hammer fell on them instead of my fists of anger.

So the intentional killings are also a big concern, NOAA officials said. Some who live on the islands have a misperception that the seals are not a native species and that they are disrupting fish populations.

“‘It’s your God-given right to destroy anything that gets in the way between you and your fish that your family is feeding’ — that’s a feeling that runs deep, especially when you cross it with misinformation,” Yamashita told the Civil Beat. “If you are told, ‘This seal is the government’s lap dog and he was introduced to your backyard by them to take the fish from you’, and ‘the seal has more rights than you’ – if you are fed all this misinformation, something bad is going to happen, most of the seals have been killed here.”

The value of a species is not determined by how cute it is. The rate at which humans have destroyed ecosystems and species — and the rate at which climate change now poses an irreversible threat to even more — is an immeasurable tragedy. The creepiest crawling insects can play an invaluable role in their ecosystems, and those guys need to be protected too. But it’s really another thing to think about photographing a cuddly, sweet, endangered seal, especially the ones that have made such a public and beloved comeback.

The law agrees. Killing an endangered seal is a crime and those found guilty could be sentenced to five years in prison. If you have information about any of these seal killings, the NOAA hotline is (800) 853-1964. My DMs are also open. Anyway, this one seals shouldn’t have to defend themselves.

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