Normal Closing Time for Keōkea Beach Park Following Departure of Endangered Monk Seals

Two endangered Hawaiian monk seals have left Keōkea Beach Park, prompting the Department of Parks and Recreation to return to keeping the North Kohala park open until 11 p.m. each night.

Mom and baby seal

Mom and baby seal

A seal pup was born at the park in November, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, which requested the park be closed at 7:30 p.m. to protect the newborn and its mother.

NOAA has informed the Department of Parks and Recreation that the pup left the park’s shoreline last week and has not been sighted since, eliminating the need for the early closure time.

Hawaiian monk seals are protected under both federal and state laws. Anyone who intentionally harasses, harms or kills a Hawaiian monk seal could be fined up to $50,000 and ordered to serve a five-year prison sentence.

The Department of Parks and Recreation thanks park users and the general public for understanding the need to protect one of Hawaii’s most unique and loved animals.

For more information, please contact Jason Armstrong, Public Information Officer, at 345-9105, or jarmstrong@co.hawaii.hi.us.

Translocation of Hawaiian Monk Seals From the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to the Main Islands, Deferred

The Hawaiian monk seal research program permit application for conducting activities implementing the monk seal recovery program was published yesterday in the Federal Register.

Monk Seal Institute

The application has deferred for up to 5 years, the proposed translocation of juvenile monk seals from the NWHI to the main islands; the permit application specifically states “no seals would be moved from the NWHI to the MHI.” The merits of the translocation proposal have been debated for the last several years among marine scientists, ocean users and conservationists. (See: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/monkseal16632.htm).

According to Trisha Kehaulani Watson, who represents the Marine Conservation Institute in Hawai‘i, the deferral was the appropriate move at this time but should be reconsidered for future permit applications based on the seal’s recovery progress over the next five years:

“Translocation of a few seals to the main islands, and then returning them to the NWHI as adults, was something NMFS wanted to try as an experiment to see if it could build up the subpopulation of seals in the NWHI which is currently declining.  It was a novel idea, and not everyone agreed it would work. But NMFS deserves credit for considering it as one measure to maintain the monk seal as part of Hawai‘i’s ‘ohana.  Translocations of individual seals within the main islands are allowed under the permit application, and we support these as necessary to protect their important role in Hawai‘i’s ecology and culture.  Moving seals within the MHI to appropriate locations where they can thrive will be an increasingly important tool as the population of monk seals continues to naturally increase in the main islands.”

“Frankly,” said Watson, “the Hawai‘i office of NMFS is in no position to finance an expensive translocation project right now because the agency’s budget for the monk seal recovery program has been cut by NOAA’s managers from around $5. 5 million in 2010 to roughly $3.5 million in 2012, and further cuts may be in the offing.  NMFS Hawai‘i cannot even pay for things it should be doing now like mounting effective outreach and volunteer programs, responding to the growing number of harmful human actions toward monk seals, and financing its scientific research projects, including its summer research camp in the NWHI.  The focus of the limited funds available needs to be on activities in Papahānaumokuākea and on managing the seal population currently in the main Hawaiian Islands.”

“If the people of Hawai‘i and across the United States want to see the monk seal properly managed and recovered,” she said, “they are going to have to ask their congressional delegation to intervene on the NOAA budget when it comes before the Congress this spring.” Watson noted that 30% of the seals seen alive today are alive because of interventions made by seal managers in Hawai‘i. “That’s a terrific record achieved by NMFS,” she said.

See our Monk Seal Fact Sheet for further information.

About Marine Conservation Institute

Marine Conservation Institute is a U.S. nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting marine ecosystems. We work with scientists, politicians, government officials and other organizations in the United States and around the world to fashion solutions to problems affecting marine ecosystems which are long lasting and compatible with sustainable ocean use. Honua Consulting represents Marine Conservation Institute in Hawai`i.

 

Latest Monk Seal Death Increases Concern of Fishery Impacts

First Monk Seal Death of 2013 Could Have Been Prevented with Earlier Reporting

The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) this morning reported that a juvenile monk seal flown by the U.S. Coast Guard from Hawai‘i Island to O‘ahu last Friday for medical treatment has died. A necropsy conducted by NOAA Fisheries revealed that the young male seal, known by his ID tags as RK68, suffered fractured ribs earlier in life, but ingestion of a fishing hook more recently is believed to be the cause of death.

Monk Seal Hook

Results of the necropsy reveal that the seal may have been hooked for several weeks or months. Officials believe had they received a detailed report of the hooking incident when it occurred, the chances of a life-saving response could have been much greater.

“Early reporting of a monk seal hooking can possibly mean the difference between life and death for one of these critically endangered animals,” said DLNR Chairperson William J. Aila, Jr. “We rely on the community to be active and mindful stewards of our oceans. Had someone come forward, even anonymously, to report this hooking when it occurred, we may have been able to save his life.”

NOAA Permit 932-1905 K68 @ WAq 02-01-2013-1

NOAA Permit 932-1905 K68 @ WAq 02-01-2013-1

This was the first monk seal death of 2013 and the first from Hawai‘i Island according to available data. Hawai‘i Island Mayor Billy Kenoi has promised increased support from the County.

“We are sad to learn that Hawai‘i Island has had its first monk seal death resulting from a hooking,” Mayor Kenoi said. “We will be encouraging everyone to report any injured or distressed seals to DLNR, and the County will be adding more informational materials in all our parks to help alert residents and visitors to this situation.”

NOAA-Permit-932-1905-K68-@-WAq-02-01-2013-2

NOAA-Permit-932-1905-K68-@-WAq-02-01-2013-2

“Many people today use the term ‘kuleana,’ but we all must remember that kuleana is not just about our rights, it is also about our responsibilities. Our community has a responsibility to help manage and care for Hawaiian monk seals,” Aila added. “Hooking a monk seal is often preventable, but we know sometimes things happen beyond a fisherman’s control. However, reporting is almost always within our control, and when someone observes a hooking and doesn’t call it in, it means an unfortunate incident can go from bad to worse, and become fatal for the seal. We have an opportunity at this time to find solutions that will work for both the seals and the fishermen.”one of which resulted in deaths. There were 15 hookings reported in 2012, resulting in three deaths. This incident marks the first seal death of 2013. Another seal was reported with a hook in its tongue Monday (Feb. 4) afternoon on Kaua‘i. DLNR and NOAA Fisheries considers these numbers concerning.

“It is certainly discouraging to see the number of hookings continue to increase, but it is alarming when monk seals lives are needlessly put at greater risk because people fail to report hookings as they occur,” noted Charles Littnan, Lead Scientist with NOAA’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Program. “We remain strongly committed to studying monk seal behavior so we can find means of mitigating these interactions, but we depend on community members to provide us information on interactions. The more we receive public reportings of hookings and other interactions, the quicker we will be able develop solutions for mitigating these situations.”

The toll-free, 24/7 reporting hotline for all fishery interactions and other marine mammal incidents is

1-888-256-9840. DLNR and NOAA Fisheries urge all fishermen and other ocean users to write down this hotline and/or save it in their mobile phones for timely use whenever a seal is hooked or entangled.

Coast Guard Transports Injured Monk Seal From Big Island To Oahu for Urgent Medical Care

Coast Guard crews, working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration transported a Hawaiian monk seal from the Big Island to Oahu for urgent medical care, Friday.

Monk Seal

Coast Guard crews, working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration transport a Hawaiian monk seal from the Big Island to Oahu for urgent medical care, Feb. 1, 2013. The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the rarest marine mammals in the world. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric J. Chandler.

The HC-130 Hercules airplane crew from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point, Oahu, received the seal at Kona International Airport, Kailua-Kona, Friday morning.

“The juvenile male monk seal, I.D. tag K68, was observed exhibiting what appeared to be breathing difficulties, but a diagnosis was not possible in the field and it was necessary to bring the seal in to a care facility for a health assessment and treatment as needed. As of 1:00 pm on Friday, the monk seal had been transferred to the Waikiki Aquarium, and NOAA Fisheries veterinarians were preparing to conduct diagnostic procedures such as x-rays and ultrasound. NOAA Fisheries will provide an update early next week after a full health assessment has been completed.” said Dr. Jeffrey Walters, NOAA Marine Mammal Branch Chief.

The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the rarest marine mammals in the world. Part of the true seal family, they are one of only two remaining monk seal species.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Veterinarian Michelle Barbieri travels from the Big Island to Oahu aboard an HC-130 Hercules airplane from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point with a Hawaiian monk seal Feb. 1, 2013. The Hawaiian monk seal was suffering respiratory problems and Coast Guard air crews transported him to Oahu for medical care. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric J. Chandler.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Veterinarian Michelle Barbieri travels from the Big Island to Oahu aboard an HC-130 Hercules airplane from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point with a Hawaiian monk seal Feb. 1, 2013. The Hawaiian monk seal was suffering respiratory problems and Coast Guard air crews transported him to Oahu for medical care. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric J. Chandler.

Safeguarding marine mammals falls under the Coast Guard’s living marine resources mission, one of the service’s 11 statutory missions. The nation’s waterways and their ecosystems are vital to the country’s economy and health. This includes ensuring the country’s marine protected species are provided the protection necessary to help their populations recover to healthy, sustainable levels.

The Coast Guard partners with NOAA on many living marine resources missions in Hawaii to protect endangered marine mammals including humpback whales. Operation Kohola Guardian involves coordinated joint Coast Guard, NOAA and State of Hawaii patrols of the National Marine Sanctuary during the peak Humpback Whale season months of January through March.

The 14th Coast Guard District is home to four Marine National Monuments and two National Marine Sanctuaries, more than any other region in the United States.

For more information on the Coast Guard’s many ongoing missions protecting Hawaii’s marine resources throughout the year contact the 14th District’s Public Affairs Office at 808-535-3230.

Monk Seal Swallows Hook and Dies – DLNR Asks for Help in Reporting Hookings

The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and NOAA Fisheries announced this week that since the beginning of 2012, NOAA Fisheries, DLNR, and partners have responded to 13 seal hooking incidents involving ten individual Hawaiian monk seals.

Due to early reporting, seven of the 11 live cases ended successfully with intervention from authorized federal and state agency monk seal responders. Two cases ended in the seal ridding itself without intervention, and although an intervention was attempted, one seal remains hooked to this day. Three cases ended in deaths.

Most recently, on October 2, 2012, the monk seal locally known as “RK54” was found dead near the Ninini Light house on Kauai. The seal swallowed a hook, became entangled in the line, and died. RK54 was born in April 2011 to RK22 (mother of the “famous” KP2 who resides at Waikiki Aquarium).

NOAA and DLNR would like to take this opportunity to remind fishermen that monk seal deaths and injuries from fishing interactions can often be prevented, and adverse impacts to fishermen and seals can be reduced through early reporting of incidents. RK54 had prior fisheries interactions, but because of timely reporting and intervention, proper care was provided and the seal recovered.

Monk Seal sign posted at Onekekaha Beach Park

“Monk seals are a vital part of Hawai‘i’s marine and cultural environment,” said William J. Aila, Jr., DLNR Chairperson. “While DLNR and NOAA seek to address all adverse impacts on Hawaiian monk seals, we want to acknowledge the cooperation of Hawai‘i fishermen and emphasize that we do not consider fishing interactions in the main Hawaiian Islands to currently pose a major threat to monk seal recovery.”

NOAA Fisheries Service data indicate that a total of 83 hooking-related interventions have occurred over the past 10 years, with a total of nine incidents in 2011 and 13 incidents thus far in 2012.  However, in only three cases, including one of the recent cases, have hookings been deemed the likely cause of a seal’s death,” Aila added. “We want to partner with the fishermen to further reduce impacts.

Following the guidelines and reporting hookings can help make a relatively small impact become even smaller.” The agencies offer guidelines, titled “Hawaiian Monk Seals and Fishing Interactions: Guidelines for Prevention, Safety and Reporting,” that describe actions fishermen can take to avoid seal hookings and entanglement, and to reduce fishing gear and bait loss. The guidelines also stress the importance of reporting all fishing interactions.

The toll-free, 24/7 reporting hotline for all fishing interactions and other marine mammal incidents is: 1-888-256-9840. NOAA and DLNR urge all fishermen and other ocean users to write down this hotline and/or save it in their mobile phones for timely use whenever a seal is hooked or entangled. “As the numbers of successful interventions from this year show, reporting early is important to the potential survival of the seal in question,” said David Schofield, Marine Mammal Health and Response Program Manager, NOAA NMFS PIRO.

Timely reporting of monk seal fishing interactions is beneficial in at least two ways:

1. First, reporting an interaction as soon as possible can help save a seal’s life or minimize seal injury. In at least three previous cases, real-time reporting of seals that had ingested hooks resulted in successful treatment and release of the seal back to the wild. These seals probably would have died without this intervention. On numerous other occasions, fishermen have provided timely reporting of less severe hooking and entanglements that were not immediately life-threatening, but could have become life threatening if not responded to. These timely reports have allowed response network members to get out to the location in time to locate the seal and safely remove the gear.

2. The second benefit to timely reporting is that it helps federal and state managers and researchers better understand how fishery interactions occur and thereby helps guide the development and testing of improved methods to prevent and mitigate interactions. By reporting and documenting interactions, fishermen can partner with NOAA and DLNR to find better non-regulatory methods to effectively keep seals away from fishing gear and fishing areas, while also allowing for monk seal conservation and recovery.

Oahu Man Busted for Harassing Monk Seals on Rabbit Island

An O‘ahu man was sentenced to a $1,000 fine and 80 hours of community service in Kaneohe District Court after being cited by Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) enforcement officers for illegally landing on Manana island. Also known as Rabbit island, it is a wildlife sanctuary that is closed to the public at all times.

Seals are protected under state and federal endangered species laws and are known to haul out on Manana to rest. Large prominent signs are posted on the island noting it is a sanctuary off-limits to visitors.

Travis Kane

Travis Kane, 19, was observed and photographed throwing rocks at a seal on the island on January 14, 2012. DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) officers followed and stopped Kane, a passenger on a personal water craft at the Kailua boat ramp, and cited him for illegal landing on the island and harassment of a monk seal. The man pleaded no contest at his court arraignment in May.

“We are strengthening our efforts to educate the public — kayakers, stand-up paddlers, fishers, boaters, beachgoers included — that it is a violation of state and federal law, subject to state penalties, to harass, harm or injure monk seals, which are an endangered species,” said William J. Aila, Jr., DLNR Chairperson. “These efforts include working with communities and “Makai Watch” groups, ocean recreation companies, and the visitor industry.

“It also includes consistent effort, again with community participation, to enforce these laws and seek proper penalties. There is no excuse for harming or harassing a monk seal. Anyone witnessing monk seal harassment, abuse or killing of a seal, is asked to call DOCARE at 643-DLNR or the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement at 1-800-853-1964. Working together we can protect our small population of these native seals that are important to our culture and ecosystem.”

Hawaii to Receive Federal Money for Monk Seal and Sea Turtle Protection

Hawaii will receive $128,584 to develop and expand programs designed to protect and help preserve the Hawaiian monk seal, green sea turtles and hawksbill turtles, Senator Daniel K. Inouye and Senator Daniel K. Akaka announced today.

Monk Seal sign posted at Onekekaha Beach Park

The money comes from a grant administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The project will enhance efforts to reduce and document human disturbance of monk seals and sea turtles caused by growing numbers of beach goers and inshore recreational fishers on Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, and Hawaii island.

The project will establish the States first Marine Protected Species (MPS) program for the long-term conservation and management of monk seals and sea turtles.

The work will include developing and delivering public education products and activities. Outreach efforts will be designed to enhance public knowledge of “seal-friendly” and “turtle-friendly” ocean recreation and fishing practices.

The work will also entail direct intervention at popular beaches and fishing areas.

“Protecting the monk seal, the most endangered fin-footed marine mammal in U.S. waters, the green sea turtle and the hawksbill turtle will require a concerted effort by all who use the ocean.  The alleged killing of four monk seals during the last six months highlights the immediate need for a combination of intervention and culturally sensitive education and outreach.  This grant will continue the process of correcting misinformation about the monk seal while also addressing the challenges facing the green sea and hawksbill turtles.  We must be diligent stewards of the ocean and I am very pleased the administration recognizes the need to invest in the protection of these marine animals,” said Senator Inouye.

“The monk seal and honu are among Hawaii’s most treasured native species.  We must do all we can to protect these important marine animals so that our keiki and future generations can learn from and enjoy them like we do,” said Senator Akaka.

DLNR Announces that Five Monk Seals Been Hooked Since March Alone

The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and NOAA Fisheries announced this week that since March 2012, NOAA Fisheries, DLNR, and partners have responded to five seal hooking incidents involving four individual Hawaiian monk seals. Three of these responses are still in progress.

This Hawaiian monk seal is alive but its life is surely made more difficult by the rusted fish hook stuck in its mouth. The reddish smear on the side of its face is rust from the hook. The state wildlife agency and seal conservation groups are aware of this individual and its injury. It has an identification tag on its rear flipper.

NOAA and DLNR would like to take this opportunity to remind fishermen that monk seal deaths and injuries from fishing interactions can often be prevented, and adverse impacts to fishermen and seals can be reduced through early reporting of incidents.

“Monk seals are a vital part of Hawai‘i’s marine and cultural environment,” said William J. Aila, Jr., DLNR Chairperson. “While DLNR and NOAA seek to address all adverse impacts on Hawaiian monk seals, we want to acknowledge the cooperation of Hawai‘i fishermen and emphasize that we do not consider fishing interactions in the main Hawaiian Islands to currently pose a major threat to monk seal recovery.”

NOAA Fisheries Service data indicate that a total of 77 hooking incidents have been reported over the past 10 years, with at total of nine incidents in 2011 and eight incidents reported thus far in 2012 (including the five incidents discussed here).

“However, in only two cases, including one of the recent cases, have hookings been deemed the likely cause of a seal’s death,” Aila added. “We want to partner with the fishermen to further reduce impacts. Following the guidelines and reporting hookings can help make a relatively small impact become even smaller.”

The agencies offer guidelines, titled “Hawaiian Monk Seals and Fishing Interactions: Guidelines for Prevention, Safety and Reporting,” that describe actions fishermen can take to avoid seal hookings and entanglement, and to reduce fishing gear and bait loss. The guidelines also stress the importance of reporting all fishing interactions.

The guidelines are available at the following link: http://www.fpir.noaa.gov/Library/PRD/Hawaiian%20monk%20seal/HMS-fishing_guidelines-FINAL-PUBLIC.pdf

The toll-free, 24/7 reporting hotline for all fishing interactions and other marine mammal incidents is: 1-888-256-9840. NOAA and DLNR urge all fishermen and other ocean users to write down this hotline and/or save it in their mobile phones for timely use whenever a seal is hooked or entangled.

“We want to encourage reporting as early as possible. We feel we can develop win-win solutions with the fishermen, and their reporting is essential to achieving this,” said Jeff Walters, Marine Mammal Branch Chief, NOAA NMFS PIRO.

Timely reporting of monk seal fishing interactions is beneficial in at least two ways:

  1. First, reporting an interaction as soon as possible can help save a seal’s life or minimize seal injury. In at least three previous cases, real-time reporting of seals that had ingested hooks resulted in successful treatment and release of the seal back to the wild. These seals probably would have died without this intervention. On numerous other occasions, fishermen have provided timely reporting of less severe hooking and entanglements that were not immediately life-threatening, but could have become life-threatening if not responded to. These timely reports have allowed response network members to get out to the location in time to locate the seal and safely remove the gear.
  2. The second benefit to timely reporting is that it helps federal and state managers and researchers better understand how fishery interactions occur and thereby helps guide the development and testing of improved methods to prevent and mitigate interactions. By reporting and documenting interactions, fishermen can partner with NOAA and DLNR to find better non-regulatory methods to effectively keep seals away from fishing gear and fishing areas, while also allowing for monk seal conservation and recovery.

Of the three active hooking cases, two seals required procedures to remove the hooks on May 10, 2012, at the Honolulu Zoo. One of these seals was airlifted from Kaua‘i to O‘ahu on May 9, 2012, by the US Coast Guard. The two seals are currently in guarded but stable condition at the Waikiki Aquarium. A special team has been assembled to de-hook and care for these seals, including a veterinarian flown in from the Vancouver Aquarium who specializes in marine mammal anesthesia.

The third hooked seal, last seen on May 9, 2012, around O‘ahu, has yet to be treated, but NOAA and DLNR marine mammal response staff are tracking her and plan to capture and treat her as soon as possible. This is the second hooking incident in the past two weeks for this seal, a 9-month-old female, known to response volunteers as “Kaiwi.” With her previous hooking on May 5, 2012, she was captured on Rabbit Island, de-hooked at Waikiki Aquarium, and released back into the wild the same day.

In March 2012, an adult male seal was found dead on Kaua‘i. A hook was found in the seal’s esophagus and necropsy results indicated that the seal likely died from trauma caused by the hook. The other three hookings reported thus far in 2012 were relatively minor and de-hooked on their own or removed in the field by marine mammal response staff.

DLNR Sets Up Reward Tip Line in New Effort Launched to Combat Wildlife Crimes in Hawaii

The Humane Society of the United States and Hawaii DLNR Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement Inaugurate Reward Tip Line As Total Rewards Grows to $30,000 in Monk Seal Killings.

The Humane Society of the United States and The Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust announced new efforts to support the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources, 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 statewide tip line will allow citizens to confidentially report information about poaching crimes to law enforcement. The HSUS will offer $2,500 rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for specific, predetermined cases. The first case under this new reward program and tip line involves three monk seals killed on Moloka‘i and a fourth monk seal found killed on Kaua‘i. Necropsies performed on three of the four seals confirmed the deaths were suspicious. The fourth case is pending additional information. Anyone with information about these cases is asked to call the confidential reward tip line.

Along with The HSUS’s $2,500 reward offering, the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Marine Conservation Institute are collectively offering $2,500 for each incident. A generous anonymous local donor has offered to match these rewards, bringing the reward total up to $30,000, or $10,000 per seal.

“We are pleased to support the critical work of DOCARE by funding a reward program and tip line for information on illegal wildlife-related offenses,” said Inga Gibson, Hawai‘i state director for The HSUS. “We must be a voice for these innocent animal victims and encourage anyone with information to please call the confidential tip line.”

“Monk seals are a vital part of Hawai‘i’s marine ecosystems,” said William J. Aila, Jr., DLNR chairperson. “The intentional killing of any monk seal is not only illegal, it is inexcusable environmentally and culturally.”

“We thank The HSUS for their sponsorship of this new program to help protect Hawaii’s precious wildlife,” said Randy Awo, DOCARE chief. “Our hope is that the reward program will deter future wildlife crimes and also encourage the community to become more involved in protecting our environment and reporting wildlife offenses.”

Wildlife officials estimate that tens of millions of animals are poached annually nationwide, but less than 5 percent of poached animals come to the attention of law enforcement. Wildlife officials report that poachers often commit other crimes as well.

For more information about this current reward posting please visit humanesociety.org/hawaii

Monk Seal Facts:
• Hunted to the brink of extinction in the late 19th century, Hawaiian monk seal populations have been declining since modern surveying due to human interactions such as intentional killing, marine debris and fishing gear entanglement, disease and loss of habitat.

• 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 found nowhere else in the world.

• 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 $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.

Investigations Being Done on Death of Two Hawaiian Monk Seals on Molokai

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in cooperation with the Department of Land and Natural Resources, is investigating the deaths of two Hawaiian monk seals on the south shore of Moloka‘i.

A young female was found dead this past week. This follows the death of an adult male seal in mid- November. Necropsies indicate that both seals appear to have died under suspicious circumstances and that foul play cannot be ruled out as the cause of death in either case.

“I was saddened to hear of these two incidents, especially the loss of a young female who would have helped restore the diminished seal population.” said William J. Aila, Jr., DLNR Chairperson. “Monk seals are an important part of the Hawaiian ecosystem and need to be respected as a valued part of our natural and cultural environment. The harm to one is a blow to Hawai‘i,” he said.

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 fine of up to $50,000. It is also against federal law to kill or harm a Hawaiian monk seal.

Anyone having information related to these deaths should call the NOAA OLE hotline at 1-800-853-1964 or Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) at (808) 873-3990 or after hours call 643-DLNR.

New Habitat Protections Proposed for Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals

Media Release:

The federal government has proposed to designate more than 11,000 square miles of critical habitat for endangered Hawaiian monk seals. The proposed rule protects beaches and coastal waters on all the main Hawaiian Islands and expands protected habitat in the Northwestern Islands. The proposal responds to a 2008 petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, and Ocean Conservancy. Hawaiian monk seals are among the most endangered marine mammals in the world, with a population of approximately 1,000 animals. The proposal will protect coastal areas for seals to raise pups and marine waters for foraging.

Map of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monum...

Image via Wikipedia

“New habitat protections, including all of the Hawaiian Islands, are essential to bring endangered Hawaiian monk seals back from the brink of extinction,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center. “The proposal to protect Hawaii’s coastline for monk seals is a landmark decision that will benefit seals and the coastal environment for generations.”

The proposed rule expands the current critical habitat area for the Hawaiian monk seal in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to include deeper waters. It also designates new areas on all of the main Hawaiian Islands: Niʻihau, Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Kahoʻolawe, Maui and Hawaiʻi. Areas protected would include coastal land up to five meters inland and waters out to 500 meters in depth, with certain exclusions.

Studies have shown that species with critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as species without it. The revised habitat protections are vital for monk seal survival because monk seals are dying of starvation, and populations of the seals on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are plummeting. Seal pups have only about a one-in-five chance of surviving to adulthood. In contrast, monk seals in the main Hawaiian Islands are in better condition and giving birth to healthy pups. Hawaiian monk seals are present on each of the main islands, and their numbers are slowly increasing. Thus the main islands are essential important habitat for the monk seals. Additionally, habitat in the main islands will provide a refuge for monk seals as important beaches where seal pups are born and raised have been lost due to sea-level rise and erosion.

Monk Seal sign posted at Onekekaha Beach Park

“Critical habitat compels U.S. federal agencies to consider the survival of this Hawaiian seal before they permit shoreline development — protecting our beaches and reefs not only for monk seals, but also for Hawaii’s paddlers, fishers, surfers and all people of these islands,” said Miwa Tamanaha, executive director at KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance.

Critical habitat designation will mean greater protection of Hawaiian monk seal habitat under the Endangered Species Act. Critical habitat protection does not close areas, but it does limit federal government activities that could harm monk seals or their habitat. Once designated, any federal activities that may affect the critical habitat must undergo review to ensure they will not destroy or damage that habitat. For example, habitat protections can help prevent pollution and require modification of construction activities to prevent destruction of the environment.

The proposed critical habitat designation for the Hawaiian monk seal is scheduled to be published in Thursday’s Federal Register. The National Marine Fisheries Service is accepting public comments on the proposal for 90 days.

For more information about Hawaiian monk seal critical habitat and how to comment on the critical habitat designation, go to: http://www.fpir.noaa.gov/PRD/prd_critical_habitat.html.