Friday, November 27, 2015         

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Marine Mammal Center wants to aid monk seals

A parcel in Kona would house a facility to treat injured, sick and orphaned animals

By Gary T. Kubota


A California group that rescues injured marine mammals wants to establish an endangered monk seal rehabilitation center in Kona.

The Marine Mammal Center, based in Sausalito, said it plans to rehabilitate injured, orphaned and sick monk seals.

The center would be on 2.6 acres controlled by the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority.

Laurence Sombarlier, interim executive director of the Natural Energy Laboratory, said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has testified in favor of the project.

“This is an effort to rehabilitate some of the seals,” Sombarlier said.

The monk seal population has declined in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands by about 40 percent in the past decade, according to NOAA.

The center said the monk seals now number about 1,100.

Spokesman James Oswald said the center has raised $550,000 toward developing the $3 million facility in Kona, including a donation of $100,000 from the Atherton Family Foundation in Honolulu.

Oswald said that, since 1975, the center has been involved in some 16,000 marine mammal rescues, including monk seal KP2, whose mother abandoned him from birth.

KP2 was captured and, after exhibiting aggressive behavior involving a woman in waters off Molokai, was taken to a marine mammal facility at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Oswald said the center’s experience with KP2 was a turning point at which they realized they could make a difference in the future of monk seals.

At the same time, he said, the center realizes it needs to limit its contact with the seals to keep them from relying on human contact.

The group plans to develop four pools holding about nine animals in an area designed to limit human contact to caretakers and a veterinarian.

According to a draft environmental assessment, no archaeological sites and no threatened or endangered plant or bird species were found on the land.

Public comments may be sent by email or postmarked on or before April 22 to the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority at or 73-4460 Queen Kaahumanu Highway No. 101, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740-2637.

A copy of the draft environmental assessment is available for review at the state Office of Environmental Quality Control website at

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