Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 21, 2003

Monk seal of disapproval returns to Maui beaches

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

MAKENA, Maui — He's back — and he's up to his old tricks.

A Hawaiian monk seal twice relocated to the Big Island made his way to Maui where up to 40 people on the beach petted him and posed for pictures, a violation of the Endangered Species Act.

The Maui News via AP

A frisky monk seal that was twice moved from a popular swimming area on the Big Island because of his naughty — and potentially dangerous — behavior has found his way back to civilization, this time on Maui.

National Marine Fisheries Service officials yesterday were attempting to recapture the 2-year-old male seal for yet another move, this time to "a far-removed location so that the potential for interactions with humans will be nil," according to a statement from the agency.

The seal, known to scientists as RM-34, began approaching humans at Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island about a month ago in a way that's normal for young seals, but which could be fatal to humans. The mock mating behavior could result in injury from bites or death from drowning, said Margaret Akamine, the agency's protected resources coordinator.

The 300-pound, 7-foot-long seal was relocated to near its South Point birthplace Oct. 20, but it swam back to Kealakekua within days, nipping and groping swimmers again.

The seal was recaptured Oct. 27 and taken to a remote Kaho'olawe shore.

The animal apparently missed human company, and this week as many as 40 people were said to have been in the water playing with the seal at Makena, officials said. One woman reportedly was held under water, while another was bitten. Onshore, people were seen petting the seal and posing for photographs with the endangered marine mammal.

Akamine said such behaviors put people at "extreme risk" of being injured and represents a violation of the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The Coast Guard has agreed to fly the seal to its next, undisclosed destination, along with biologists and a veterinarian to assist with the relocation. Satellite and radio tags on the animal will help scientists follow his movements.

If the third attempt fails, the seal most likely will be brought into permanent captivity, Akamine said.

"Wildlife managers are left with few options once a wild animal becomes habituated to humans," she said. "Although people may think it is fun to interact with these wild seals, human interaction is inconsistent with conservation values and ethics and serves to impede the species' recovery from its endangered status."

There are about 1,250 Hawaiian monk seals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and until recently, they were a rare sight around the main Hawaiian Islands. The sightings have become more frequent in recent years, and there have been births on each of the eight main islands.

Contact Timothy Hurley at thurley@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 244-4880.