State officials are warning ATV riders in Kailua-Kona that off-roading in a cordoned-off area could harm a Hawaiian monk seal pup at Kekaha Kai State Park on Hawaii island.
The area — in the Mahai‘ula section of the park — was cordoned off to protect the seal’s mother and the four-week old pup, nicknamed Hiwahiwa, said the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Staff from Ke Kei Ola, the monk seal hospital in Kailua-Kona, have been monitoring the seals, and worry that the newly weaned pup will be hurt as he explores the Kaelehuluhulu beach area on his own. They have documented and photographed tire tracks on the beach from off-roaders.
“We are in the process of identifying access points that ATV’s are using and will look at putting up barricades or warning signs,” said Division of State Parks Administrator Curt Cottrell in a news release. “In the meantime, we implore operators of off-road vehicles to only ride in legal and open areas and to never ride in places that could endanger any of Hawaii’s wildlife. Not only could an endangered monk seal pup or adult be hurt or killed, a driver could be as well.”
On Oahu, DLNR also warned that off-leash dogs pose a threat to monk seals and other wildlife. In late May, DLNR said a few off-leash dogs approached a seal pup that was resting in a coastal area of Oahu.
Fortunately, a member of Hawai‘i Marine Animal Response intervened, and the seal was not injured. The dogs’ owner was cited by DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement.
Hawaiian monk seals are a critically endangered species protected by both state and federal laws. Under Hawaii law, the harassment of a monk seal is considered a class C felony, punishable by imprisonment and fines.
Anyone who sees or suspects a natural or cultural resource violation is asked to call 643-DLNR or use the free DLNRTip app.