NOAA officials recently determined the death of a recently weaned, female monk seal pup on Molokai was likely due to interactions with an aggressive, male seal, not humans.
Hawaiian monk seal pup RL76, who was born in May at Kalaupapa, died Aug. 3 due to trauma from severe injuries despite efforts to save her, officials said.
“Although less common in the main Hawaiian islands, adult male aggression towards female and immature seals is a well-documented occurrence in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands,” said NOAA Fisheries in a blog post. “While we cannot definitively rule out other sources of trauma, there is nothing at this time that leads us to suspect human involvement in this incident.”
Before she died, officials had transported RL76 to The Marine Mammal Center’s hospital in Kailua-Kona on Hawaii island for treatment, but her injuries proved too severe to overcome.
On July 22, National Park Service staff alerted officials after noticing RL76 had swelling around her head and face, that she was breathing abnormally, and staying close to shore in shallow water, which is oftentimes a sign that a seal is in too much pain to swim.
A small team from NOAA Fisheries and TMMC flew to Molokai to capture the seal and transport her Ke Kai Ola in Kailua-Kona for rehabilitation, with assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard.
Despite the best efforts of the veterinary and animal care team at Ke Kai Ola, RL76 passed away a week later as a result of her injuries.
The death of monk seal pup RL76 follows that of another yearling male, RK88, who was also known as Kuokala. He was found dead at Camp Erdman in Kaena Point on Aug. 21. Officials said necropsy and histopathology results support drowning in a lay gill net as the cause of Kuokala’s death.
Hawaiian monk seals are a critically endangered species protected by state and federal laws. Only an estimated 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals remain in the wild.
To report a seal in distress, call NOAA’s hotline at 888-256-9840.