An endangered Hawaiian monk seal has died in a suspected intentional killing—described as a “hateful act”—according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The juvenile seal, known to officials as Malama, was found dead at ʻŌhikilolo, between Keaʻau Beach Park and Mākua Valley, on the island of Oʻahu on March 12, 2023, by a member of the public, NOAA Fisheries said Tuesday. This individual reported the deceased seal to Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response (HMAR), which then alerted NOAA Fisheries.
“It is with great sadness that we report the suspected intentional killing of Hawaiian monk seal RQ76, also known as Malama,” the NOAA said.
The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the most endangered seal species in the world, with the population estimated to number around 1,570 individuals, NOAA figures show.
These seals, which grow to around 6 to 7 feet in length and can weigh 400 to 600 pounds, are native to the Hawaiian archipelago. They are found nowhere else in the world. Around 1,200 of these seals live northwest of the archipelago, while roughly 400 are found in the main Hawaiian islands.
The species is protected under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and Hawai’i law. Under state and federal laws, it is illegal to touch, harass, injure or kill the seals.
The Hawaiian monk seal population has experienced a prolonged decline in numbers over the past 60 years or so. But there are signs of optimism, with the population recording an increase over the past decade, thanks in part to conservation efforts.
In the case of Malama’s death, the NOAA conducted a postmortem investigation, which found that the seal was killed by blunt force trauma.
“Given this extremely serious finding, we consulted with national experts in marine mammal radiology and forensics to better isolate the likely cause of the blunt force trauma,” the NOAA said.
NOAA officials had previously come into contact with Malama after rescuing the seal when she was a pup, before releasing her back into the wild.
“Malama was a seal close to many of our hearts,” the NOAA said. “Last year, we rescued her on Oʻahu because she was significantly malnourished after weaning and unlikely to survive.”
Officials subsequently transferred her aboard a U.S. Coast Guard aircraft to The Marine Mammal Center’s Hawaiian monk seal hospital, Ke Kai Ola, on Hawai’i Island, where she was rehabilitated.
“The Center’s team provided months of dedicated care to rehabilitate her, getting her back up to a healthy weight,” the NOAA said. “After successful rehabilitation, she was released back on Oʻahu in January 2023. After release, she was observed regularly in good body condition and exhibiting normal seal behavior.
“Malama’s death hits us and our community particularly hard—especially given all the support, care, and monitoring provided to her by our NOAA team, The Center, HMAR, U.S. Coast Guard, and members of the Oʻahu community.”
The NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement is offering a potential reward of up to $5,000 for any information that leads to the successful prosecution of those responsible for Malama’s death.
“We’re asking for help from anyone who may have seen or heard anything related to the killing of this endangered animal, which is not only a violation of federal law but a hateful act against all the people who call Hawaiʻi their home,” Frank Giaretto said in a statement. He is the deputy special agent in charge with NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement, Pacific Islands Division.
Anyone with information about this incident should contact the NOAA’s Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964.
To report any dead, injured, or stranded marine mammal, call the NOAA’s Marine Wildlife Hotline at (888) 256-9840.
Newsweek has contacted NOAA Fisheries by email for comment.
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