State and federal officials announced Friday that they were investigating the deaths of two Hawaiian monk seals on the south shore of Molokai, and a prominent Molokai advocate called on Native Hawaiians to protect the species.
A young female monk seal was found dead this week, while an older male seal was found in mid-November. Necropsies indicated that both seals appeared to have died under suspicious circumstances, and foul play could not be ruled out in either case.
Anyone with information related to the deaths is asked to call the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at (800) 853-1964, or the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement at (808) 873-3990 or 643-DLNR after hours.
DLNR Chairman William Aila Jr. said he was "saddened" to hear about the deaths, especially the loss of a young female that could have helped grow the seal population.
He said monk seals are an important part of the ecosystem and must be respected as part of the "natural and cultural environment."
"The harm to one is a blow to Hawaii," he said.
Prominent Molokai advocate Walter Ritte Jr. called the deaths "a dangerous trend that must be stopped."
In a written statement, he said Molokai elders have said the seals are "not Hawaiian," while "young people are calling these seals an invasive species brought in by government."
Fishermen also blame the seals for depleting local fisheries, he said.
"We need to stand up for the truth," he said. "These seals are not only Hawaiian, but have been here longer than the Hawaiians."
Native Hawaiians should see monk seals as a reflection of themselves, "struggling to survive in their own lands," he said. "How we treat the seals is how we can be expected to be treated as Hawaiians in Hawaii."