Wildlife officials reported the death of another Hawaiian monk seal on Molokai, the isle’s sixth so far this year, which they said is unprecedented.
On Sunday, members of the public found a young female seal dead on the south shore of Molokai, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Officials identified her as L11 by a temporary bleach mark on her side. L11 was one of the pups born on the island in 2020.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, NOAA Fisheries will not be able to perform a full post-mortem examination to help determine the cause of her death at this time. The carcass of L11 was sent to Oahu, where it is currently in a freezer, awaiting a post-mortem exam when possible.
The incident has been referred to NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement and the state Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement for a joint investigation.
Both entities are now investigating six seal deaths on Molokai that have occurred since the beginning of the year — the highest number ever recorded for the species on the isle over a 9-month time period.
With only an estimated 1,400 individuals remaining in the wild, Hawaiian monk seals are considered a critically endangered species, with deaths of females considered a blow to the species’ population recovery.
Hawaiian monk seals are endemic to the Hawaiian archipelago, and are protected by both federal and state laws.
Under the federal Endangered Species Act, it is illegal to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect, or attempt to engage in any such conduct with any endangered species. Under Hawaii law, the harassment of a monk seal is considered a Class C felony, punishable by imprisonment and fines.
Anyone with information is urged to contact NOAA Office of Law Enforcement at 800-853-1964 or the DOCARE hotline at 643-DLNR or via the free DLNRTip app. Tips can remain anonymous, officials said.