Endangered Seal Found on Hawaii Beach Was Shot to Death

The shooting is the third deliberate seal killing of 2021 on the island of Molokai, investigators said. “Why would somebody do that?” one resident asked.

The shooting is the third deliberate seal killing of 2021 on the island of Molokai, investigators said. “Why would somebody do that?” one resident asked.

An endangered Hawaiian monk seal that was found dead on a beach in September had been deliberately shot in the head, officials said on Tuesday, in the third intentional seal killing of 2021 on the same island.

The seal shooting on Molokai, a sparsely populated island northwest of Maui, is the seventh intentional one there in the past decade, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. Such killings are significant blows to a landmark species with only 1,400 or so surviving members.

The latest victim, a young female known to researchers as L11, was found dead on Molokai’s South Shore in September. The dead seal was reported to the authorities by Dr. Boki Chung, a local dentist.

Dr. Chung found the seal on a beach where she walks her dogs. She later told a journalist that she had been surprised to see a bruise around one of its eyes, suggesting that someone had attacked it.

“Why would somebody do that?” she said, according to a report by the news site Honolulu Civil Beat.

L11 died from an “intentional gunshot wound to the head,” the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources announced on Tuesday. “It is past time for anyone who has information on the killing of this seal and the others to step forward,” the department’s chairwoman, Suzanne Case, said in a news release.

Two other Hawaiian monk seals that washed up on Molokai in April died of “blunt force trauma,” according to NOAA. A total of 10 have died this year, including two by reproductive complications, the agency said on Tuesday.

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A Hawaiian monk seal. They are the most endangered seal or sea lion species in the United States.Credit…Andre Seale/Universal Images Group, via Getty Images

In other cases, the cause of death was inconclusive because the carcasses were heavily decomposed or had washed out to sea.

The species — named for a thick fold of skin on its neck that resembles a monk’s robe — is the only marine mammal found solely in United States waters, according to the National Wildlife Federation. Adults typically measure more than 6.6 feet and weigh 400 pounds to 600 pounds.

Hawaiian monk seals are the most endangered seal or sea lion species in the United States, according to the Marine Mammal Center, a nonprofit in Sausalito, Calif.

The species is also the only seal that has evolved to live in the tropics, John Henderson, a retired NOAA researcher, said in a 2019 conversation with a colleague that was published on the agency’s website.

“Staying cool can often be as much of a challenge as staying warm,” he said.

The estimated population of Hawaiian monk seals is about 1,400 and grew by about 2 percent from 2013 to 2019, according to NOAA. Most of them live in a remote group of Hawaiian islands, atolls and shoals that span 1,200 nautical miles. Only about 300 live on Hawaii’s eight main islands, including Molokai.

The leading causes of death in the population include toxoplasmosis, a disease caused by a parasite that is shed into marine environments through cat feces, and entrapment in fishing nets, according to NOAA.

Intentional killing is a top threat to the population’s recovery in the main Hawaiian Islands, Angela Amlin, the Hawaiian monk seal recovery coordinator at the agency’s Pacific islands fisheries office, said in a brief statement on Tuesday.

NOAA said in September that six seal fatalities on Molokai from 2021 that were under investigation at the time represented an unprecedented number of deaths over a nine-month period.

“A lot of seals found dead,” an unnamed investigator from Hawaii’s conservation police said in a video of a Molokai field investigation that state officials uploaded in May. “I think the seals deserve better.”

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