UPDATE! Another Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal Is Found Dead On Oʻahu; Was This Seal Also Intentionally Killed?

Endangered Hawaiian monk seal pup RS48, also known as Hoʻomau Lehua. Photo Credit: Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response

UPDATE: WAN is sad to report that another endangered monk seal has been found dead on O’ahu, according to NOAA.

Yesterday, the agency received a call regarding a dead seal pup on the North Shore of the island. The body of RS48, also known as Hoʻomau Lehua, was collected by Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response and brought to NOAA’s facility on Ford Island.

Unfortunately, the cause of death is still unknown. The seal pup was born on February 23, making her only four months old.

“We are conducting a post-mortem examination and will share more information as available,” said NOAA officials.

This recent death comes on the heels of another monk seal that was found dead in O’ahu. It was determined last week that the seal, named Malama, had been intentionally killed.

NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement has offered a potential reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to the successful prosecution of those responsible for Malama’s death.

Anyone with information should contact NOAA’s Enforcement Hotline: (800) 853-1964.

Hawaiian monk seal Malama (RQ76) explores a rehabilitation pool pen during treatment. Photo by: The Marine Mammal Center, NOAA Permit #24359

June 7, 2023

It is with great sadness that WAN reports the suspected intentional killing of a beloved endangered Hawaiian monk seal known as Malama.

Last year, NOAA rescued Malama on Oʻahu after she was found significantly malnourished after weaning and was deemed unlikely to survive. They 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. The Center’s team provided months of dedicated care to rehabilitate her, getting her back up to a healthy weight. After a successful rehabilitation, she was released back on Oʻahu in January 2023. After her release, she was observed regularly in good health and exhibiting normal seal behavior.

Tragically, Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response (HMAR) received a public report of a deceased seal on March 12, 2023, and it was confirmed to be Malama. She was found at ʻŌhikilolo Beach, between Keaʻau Beach Park and Mākua Valley, on Oʻahu. HMAR and the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement responded. HMAR transferred the seal to NOAA for a post-mortem investigation.

The findings showed the cause of death to be blunt force trauma. Given this extremely serious finding, NOAA consulted with national experts in marine mammal radiology and forensics to better isolate the likely cause of the blunt force trauma. After analysis by multiple experts, the weight of expertise points to Malama‘s death being caused by intentional killing.

“We are all deeply saddened to hear the news of the needless and senseless death of Malama on O‘ahu,” Dr. Sophie Whoriskey, Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Veterinarian at The Marine Mammal Center, told WAN. “Young female seals like Malama are most important for the species’ long-term recovery making this case heartbreaking on many levels. We’re committed to help save the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and play a key role in the ongoing conservation efforts.”

“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,” said NOAA in a statement on their website.

According to NOAA, the Hawaiian monk seal is one of the most endangered seal species in the world. The population has been declining for six decades and current numbers, though increasing, are only about one-third of historic population levels. The current upward trend is in part due to NOAA Fisheries recovery efforts.

The population of Hawaiian monk seals is estimated to be only 1,570 individuals. There are an estimated 1,200 seals on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and 400 seals on the main Hawaiian Islands.

NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement is offering a potential reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to the successful prosecution of those responsible. Anyone with information should contact NOAA’s Enforcement Hotline: (800) 853-1964.

To report a stranded marine mammal, or a monk seal sighting, please call the Marine Wildlife Hotline at (888) 256-9840.

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