An oft-spotted, 15-year-old endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal, known as R4DP was found dead on a beach near ʻEleʻele, Kaua‘i’s Westside, on Feb. 23, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. This was the 11th suspicious death statewide of the endangered marine mammal in the last eight years.
Officers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement and from the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement are investigating the female seal’s death as suspicious, as it had injuries “inconsistent with any natural cause of death associated with wild monk seals.”
“Although we’re waiting for final laboratory analysis, the preliminary necropsy (animal autopsy) on R4DP indicates this seal was in good health with no apparent disease or natural cause of death,” said Jeff Walters with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Pacific Islands Regional Office.
This is the 11th monk seal since 2009 found dead under suspicious circumstances. That means law enforcement authorities have good reason to suspect one or more people were directly involved and their activities were unauthorized or illegal. Monk seal deaths due to interactions with fishing activities are considered in a different category, and the death of R4DP does not appear to be for this reason. NMFS maintains records of all known Hawaiian monk seals.
Hawai‘i’s native seals, numbering around 1400 left in the wild, are protected under both the federal Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act and by state law. Violations under any of these laws can be charged either in criminal or civil court, with criminal convictions under the ESA carrying fines as high as $50,000, or imprisonment for up to a year, or both.
“We can’t comment further on the specifics of this or previous open cases that are still under investigation, but we can assure people that both state and federal law enforcement officers continue to aggressively and thoroughly investigate these deaths in hopes of bringing the person or persons responsible to justice,” said DOCARE Enforcement Chief, Robert Farrell.
This is the first reported suspicious death of a monk seal since 2014, when there was one death on O‘ahu and one on Kaua‘i, with both seals showing signs of significant trauma. A man was convicted of killing a seal on Kaua‘i in 2009.
“Hawaiian monk seals are precious to our state both naturally and culturally,” said DLNR Chair Suzanne Case. “It’s beyond comprehension that anyone could even consider beating or killing one of these rare mammals, as they’re resting or sleeping on a beach,” Case added.
Like with many monk seals around the state, R4DP was familiar to researchers and scientists. She was tagged as a young adult seal on Kaua‘i in the summer of 2008. Ten days later, she was flown to O‘ahu for a health examination after it was believed she may have ingested a hook.
X-rays didn’t reveal anything, so she was returned to Kaua‘i and released.
Anyone with information related to the death of R4DP or any other monk seal is encouraged to call the NOAA OLE hotline at 1-800-853-1964 or the DLNR/DOCARE hotline at 643-DLNR (808-873-3990).