Wanted Alive: $25,000 Bounty for the Person or Those Responsible in the Death of Hawaiian Monk Seal RF58

by Carolyn Sotka

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Photo by Jamie Norton/NOAA from The Garden Island story.

Back in early October, I posted a story on The Scuttlefish about the recovery of the monk seal in the Hawaiian Islands.  As the most endangered seal in the world and only one of two endemic mammals in the island chain, intensive efforts have been directed at saving the population through rescue and rehabilitation programs.

I included in the title, ‘saving…one monk seal at a time’ because they are so vulnerable that each and every seal is a step closer to sustaining a healthy population. Today, there is one less. The young seal known as RF58, born in June earlier this year, was found dead at a beach in Anahola at the end of November. RF58 didn’t die from disease, or fishing gear entanglement or ocean trash. RF58 died of blunt force trauma – to the head.

Less than 24 hours before she was killed, she was seen perfectly healthy and behaving normally when observed near her birthplace. But she isn’t the first death. At least 5 cases of suspicious monk seal deaths are currently being investigated in Hawaii.

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Photo from The Cove

Comparatively to other mass killing of marine mammals such as the seal hunt in Canada or the dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan that was the subject of the feature film, The Cove – this case might seem less significant and isolated. But in the case of a highly endangered Monk Seal, the killing is treated as a homicide and the crime scene is handled much the same way.

Initially a $5,000 award was set for any information about the crime but it quickly climbed to $25,000 thanks in part to ‘Whale Wars’ star Canadian environmental activist Paul Watson.

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Paul Watson. 

Paul is founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and quoted on The Garden Island Web site saying – “My hope is to see deterrents in place to prevent these crimes. The kind of person who clubs a seal pup to death is not the kind of person who would feel remorse.” And he wants to send the message that, “If they kill endangered seals there will be legal consequences.”

This recent killing resonated throughout the native Hawaiian community. According to blogger Dom Acain in his recent post ‘The Hawaiian Monk Seal Controversy’, he describes how the killing of RF58 goes against ancestral values and highlights the belief that the monk seal is a non-native and introduced species that competes with people for food resources and should be wiped out. Whether or not this is the case in the shooting of the RF58, it brings an interesting debate to light.

As Acain writes, the debate is based on the seeming lack of evidence of fossil record of monk seals. His blog points out the case that many extinct species were not seen alive for several generations. He includes findings of monk seal remains on the Big Island that date back 600 years. Also, that the 1800’s and the 1900’s records show the monk seal being hunted in the Hawaiian archipelago to almost near extinction because of the notion they were not a native species. It is no wonder that many grandparents or great grandparents had ever seen them, for none was born yet.

Most experts support evidence that shows monk seals migrating to Hawaii between 4-11 million years ago.

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Photo credit: NOAA

On the heels of this killing, USA Today online reported that two dolphins were violently killed in the Northern Gulf of Mexico over the last few weeks. One was pregnant with an almost full-term fetus. The necropsy pointed to death by gunshot, likely from a small caliber firearm. A second dolphin was found on Sunday on Orange Beach, Alabama with a hunting arrow in its side.

According to the Humane Society, this is at least the 13th dolphin killed since 2010 and they also anted up a reward with the Whale Dolphin Conservation Society.

Harassing, harming, killing or feeding marine mammals is prohibited under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, is against the law and can come with stiff penalties. Killing a monk seal, a critically endangered species, is a Class C felony and carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine. Often though – it ends with a slap on the wrist and a small fine.

Anyone having any information about the monk seal and dolphin killings should call the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement hotline at 1-800-853-1964 or the DLNR’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement at 1-800-DLNR-TIP or 643-DLNR. All information will be held in confidence.

Track the story on the Hawaiian monk seal killings and other activities on the Hawaiian Monk Seal Restoration Project Facebook page. – CS

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