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Third Hawaiian monk seal found dead on Kauai as officials continue investigation

Nina Wu
                                Hawaiian monk seal juvenile RL52 was found dead along Kauai’s Anahola coastline on Sept. 10. Officials have since found two more seals dead in the same area.
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Hawaiian monk seal juvenile RL52 was found dead along Kauai’s Anahola coastline on Sept. 10. Officials have since found two more seals dead in the same area.

A third Hawaiian monk seal was found dead on Kauai’s north shore, in the same area as two others that were also found dead over the past four months, wildlife officials confirmed.

The third seal, also a juvenile, was found dead near Anahola Beach Park on Dec. 2, officials said. The seal’s body, however, was so decomposed that its death likely occurred months earlier.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement continues to investigate the deaths, and is offering a reward of up to $20,000 for any information that leads to the issuance of a civil penalty or criminal conviction.

The first seal, a juvenile male identified as RL52, was found dead around Sept. 10. The second seal, a juvenile female, was found dead around Nov. 18.

“The circumstances around the death including time and location lead us to believe the seals died from an unnatural cause,” said Jeff Walters, NOAA’s wildlife management and conservation branch chief.

Walters said NOAA has reached out to community leaders in the Anahola area — a remote part of Kauai – to discuss the deaths of the monk seals, and what can be done to prevent them.

“We’ve heard from community members out there that they are equally saddened by this news,” he said. “We want to understand how people feel about seals and work with them to improve our relationships in the community even better than we have now.”

Before monk seal RL52 was found dead in September, he was spotted a week earlier at North Larsen’s Beach in good condition. The second seal found dead in November was not tagged, and her identity remains unknown, but her loss is considered a setback to species recovery efforts due to the loss of all her potential offspring, as well.

Necropsies are still being completed on the first and second seal, according to Walters, to see if a cause of death can be determined, while the third was too decomposed in order to conduct one.

The last suspicious Hawaiian monk seal deaths occurred on Molokai a few years ago. Two juvenile male seals were found dead within about a week of one another.

Other leading causes of seal deaths include hookings, when the pinnipeds accidentally swallow fishing hooks, or get them lodged somewhere near or in their mouths, and toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease often spread into the environment through feral cat feces.

Hawaiian monk seals are a critically endangered species, with a population of only about 1,400 remaining in the wild, and killing one is considered both a federal and state crime.

Under the Endangered Species Act, it is illegal to unlawfully “take,” meaning to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt to engage in any such conduct with respect to any species listed, including Hawaiian monk seals.

Under state law, intentionally or knowingly killing a monk seal is considered a felony.

Anyone with information is urged to contact NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement hotline at 1-800-853-1964.

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