An endangered Hawaiian monk seal found dead on a beach in September has been deliberately shot in the head, officials said Tuesday in the third deliberate seal killing of 2021 on the same island.
The seal hunt on Molokai, a sparsely populated island northwest of Maui, is the seventh intentional shooting there in the past decade, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Such killings are significant blows to a historic species with only 1,400 surviving members.
The latest victim, a young woman known to investigators as L11, was found dead on the south coast of Molokai in September. The dead seal was reported to authorities by Dr. Boki Chung, a local dentist.
dr. Chung found the seal on a beach where she was walking her dogs. She later told a reporter that she had been surprised to see a bruise around one of his eyes, suggesting someone attacked it.
“Why would anyone do that?” she said, according to a report from the Honolulu Civil Beat news site.
L11 died of a “deliberate gunshot wound to the head,” the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources said on Tuesday. “It’s time for anyone who has information about the killing of this seal and the others to come forward,” department president Suzanne Case said in a press release.
Two other Hawaiian monk seals that washed up on Molokai in April died of “blunt trauma,” according to NOAA. A total of 10 have died this year, including two from reproductive complications, the agency said Tuesday.
In other cases, the cause of death was inconclusive because the carcasses were heavily decomposed or washed up in the sea.
The species — named for a thick fold of skin on its neck that resembles a monk’s robes — is the only marine mammal found exclusively in United States waters, according to the National Wildlife Federation. Adults typically measure over 6.6 feet and weigh 400 pounds to 600 pounds.
According to the Marine Mammal Center, a nonprofit organization in Sausalito, California, Hawaiian monk seals are the most endangered species of seals or sea lions in the United States.
The species is also the only seal to have evolved to live in the tropics, John Henderson, a retired NOAA researcher, said in a 2019 conversation with a colleague published on the agency’s website.
“Staying cool can often be as challenging as staying warm,” he said.
The estimated population of Hawaiian monk seals is about 1,400 and grew by about 2 percent between 2013 and 2019, according to NOAA. Most of them live on a remote group of Hawaiian islands, atolls, and shoals that span 1,200 nautical miles. Only about 300 live on Hawaii’s eight main islands, including Molokai.
The leading causes of death in the population are toxoplasmosis, a disease caused by a parasite released into the marine environment through cat feces, and entrapment in fishing nets, according to NOAA.
Deliberate killing is a major threat to population recovery on major Hawaiian islands, Angela Amlin, the Hawaiian monk seal recovery coordinator at the agency’s Pacific Fisheries Bureau, said in a brief statement on Tuesday.
NOAA said in September that six seal deaths on Molokai as of 2021 that were being investigated at the time represented an unprecedented number of deaths over a nine-month period.
“Many seals found dead,” an unnamed investigator with the Hawaii wildlife conservation police said in a video of a Molokai field survey that state officials uploaded in May. “I think the seals deserve better.”