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State investigates ‘suspicious death’ of Hawaiian monk seal on Kauai

  • COURTESY NOAA

    Hawaiian monk seal named R4DP alive and resting on a beach. In February, the endangered female monk seal was found dead under suspicious circumstances.

State authorities are investigating what they’ve described as a suspicious death of a 15-year-old endangered monk seal on Kauai.

The female seal, known as R4DP, was found dead Feb. 23 on ‘Ele‘ele Beach near Hanapepe bearing “injuries inconsistent with any natural cause of death associated with Hawaiian monk seals,” state Department of Land and Natural Resources officials said today.

Preliminary necropsy (animal autopsy) details indicate that R4DP had been in good health “with no apparent disease or natural cause of death,” according to Jeff Walters of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

There’s also no evidence that the seal had any “fishery interaction,” such as when a local monk seal ingests a fish hook, added Walters, who oversees local Hawaiian monk seal recovery efforts.

R4DP was among about 1,400 of the endangered native Hawaii seal species left in the wild, the DLNR release stated. She was the 11th monk seal since 2009 found dead under suspicious circumstances, which means law enforcement has “good reason to suspect one or more people were directly involved and their activities were unauthorized or illegal,” it added.

DLNR enforcement officials say they can’t comment further on R4DP’s death because it’s an open investigation. In a news release today, DLNR Chairwoman Suzanne Case said it was “beyond comprehension that anyone could even consider beating or killing one of these rare mammals, as they’re resting or sleeping on a beach.”

Hawaiian monk seals are protected under federal and state law, and violations carry penalties of up to $50,000 in fines, a year in prison, or both, according to DLNR.

This marks the first reported suspicious death of a monk seal since 2014, when there was one such death on Oahu and one on Kauai, according to DLNR. In both of those cases the seal showed “signs of significant trauma,” it stated. A man was convicted of killing a seal on Kauai in 2009, the statement added.

Researchers had tagged R4DP in 2008 and flew the young seal to Oahu 10 days later for examination when it was believed she had ingested a fish hook, the DLNR release stated. The X-rays didn’t reveal anything, so she was returned to Kauai and released, it added.

Anyone with information related to the death of R4DP or any other monk seal is encouraged to call the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement hotline at (800) 853-1964 or the DLNR/Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement hotline at 643-DLNR, or 873-3990.

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