HONOLULU (AP) — An endangered Hawaiian monk seal that was found dead on the island of Molokai in September was intentionally killed with a gun, federal officials said Tuesday.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said in a statement that the young female seal suffered a gunshot would to its head.
This was the third intentional killing of a monk seal on the rural island in 2021 and the seventh in the past 10 years, according to NOAA. Two others were killed by “blunt force trauma” on Molokai in April.
“These intentional killings of this endangered species is devastating to the recovery of this population,” the NOAA statement said.
There are only a few hundred monk seals left in the main Hawaiian Islands. About 1,100 more live in the remote, uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The endangered seals are found nowhere else.
The cause of death for several other seals on the island were inconclusive because of decomposition or the carcasses washing out to sea before examinations could be conducted.
Killing the endangered species is a state and federal crime and the deaths are being investigated. Historically, monk seals have sometimes been perceived as a nuisance or competition to people who are fishing.
At a news conference Tuesday, state officials said they have no indication of who might be responsible for the “egregious” killings.
“Make no mistake folks, these intentional killings are evil, despicable acts perpetrated against an endangered animal in its own natural habitat,” said Hawaii’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement Chief Jason Redulla. “Those responsible must be held accountable.”
The killings are felonies that carry a penalty of up to five years in prison, Redulla said.
Suzanne Case, the chair of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, noted local outrage at visitors who harassed monk seals earlier this year and called for a similar response to the killing of the seal that was shot in the head.
“It is past time for anyone who has information on the killing of this seal and the others to step forward,” Case said. “Earlier this year many people were outraged when a visitor slapped a seal on the back, and we trust the level of indignation we saw associated with that incident will be exceeded by the despicable shooting of (this seal) and the others taken by human hands.”