By Curtis Lum
A 78-year-old man accused of shooting to death an endangered Hawaiian monk seal on Kaua’i in May pleaded not guilty to the charge yesterday in U.S. District Court.
Charles Vidinha of Kaua’i was released on a $10,000 unsecured bond after entering his plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie Kobayashi. Vidinha’s trial was set for Oct. 14.
Vidinha was indicted Aug. 5 on a charge of knowingly and unlawfully taking or attempting to take the monk seal, a violation of the Endangered Species Act. The charge is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum one year in prison and a fine of $50,000.
Dressed in blue jeans, a long-sleeve denim shirt and cowboy hat, Vidinha said nothing at yesterday’s hearing, except to acknowledge that he understood the terms of his release. He and his attorney, federal public defender Alexander Silvert, declined comment outside the courtroom.
Vidinha is charged with shooting a pregnant monk seal May 21 at Pila’a Beach, a remote beach on Kaua’i's north shore. The seal, known as RK-06, was the mother of five pups, federal officials said.
On the day of the shooting, witnesses told The Advertiser that they had just arrived at the beach when they saw a man standing next to a pickup truck, then heard loud noises. The couple said they then saw a monk seal scamper into the ocean.
A short while later, the two witnesses found the body of the seal floating in the water. Federal officials later confirmed that the seal had been shot to death.
RK-06 was the second endangered monk seal that was shot to death on a Kaua’i beach this year. On April 19, a 4-year-old male seal was found dead on the west side of the island.
No charges have been filed in that case.