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Officials capture monk seal that bit swimmers

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KAILUA-KONA » A 6-month-old endangered Hawaiian monk seal that has had previous contact with humans bit two swimmers Tuesday in Kamakahonu Bay.

Wildlife officials said the 100-pound seal may have been trying to engage the swimmers in play, said Michelle Barbieri, a veterinarian with The Marine Mammal Center.

Two marine biologists and a veterinarian captured the seal, which will be relocated, West Hawaii Today reported.

The swimmers, a pair of triathletes, were not harassing the seal, Barbieri said. Young seals often are curious and can get into trouble because of it, she said. One man was bitten on a knee and the other was bitten on the side of his abdomen. They were treated for minor injuries.

The pup has a bleach mark on its back. The Marine Mammal Center and federal wildlife officials in recent weeks had received reports of the seal on west Hawaii beaches and boat ramps.

Doug Perrine, a volunteer and Kona photojournalist, said the pup was born April 10 at Kamilo Bay.

"As he has worked his way around South Point and up the Kona Coast, learning how to catch fish in deep water and survive shark attacks, he has returned to the shoreline each day to rest and digest his meal," Perrine said. "Instead of other seals, he has encountered large seal-like mammals that often pursue him and attempt to play with him as though he were a puppy dog, rather than a wild animal."

People have disrupted the seal’s rest and allowed it to imprint on humans, rather than seals, he said, which ultimately could lead to its death.

Barbieri is overseeing the monk seal in a cage as wildlife officials decide where to relocate it. The Kona area is not ideal for the monk seal. More than 2,000 triathletes are preparing for the Ironman World Championship on Saturday. The race begins and ends at Kailua Pier.

A decision should be made in the next 48 hours, Barbieri said.

The Hawaiian monk seal population estimated at 1,200 animals is declining at 4 percent annually, according to the website of the National Marine Fisheries Service Office of Protected Resources. About 150 to 200 animals live in waters surrounding the main Hawaiian Islands. Interacting with monk seals is illegal.

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