Seventy-eight-year-old Charles Vidinha said he did not intend to kill a pregnant Hawaiian monk seal on Kauai in May.
"I shot at it to scare it away," Vidinha said. "I wanted to scare it off the beach."
Vidinha pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court to taking an endangered species in violation of the U.S. Endangered Species Act. "Taking" includes harassing, pursuing, harming, hunting, shooting or killing. It is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $50,000 fine.
But in a plea agreement with the government, Vi- dinha began serving a 90-day jail term yesterday, which will be followed by one year of supervised release.
Vidinha said he was preparing a campsite at remote Pilaa Beach on Kauai's North Shore for some visitors from Oahu on May 20 when he spotted the monk seal. He said he wanted to scare it off because he did not want the seal to steal fish from the fish nets he was going to place in the ocean.
His lawyer, Alexander Silvert, said Vidinha fired four shots from a .22-caliber rifle from the hip and did not realize he hit the seal.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshall Silverberg said two shots hit the seal — one killed it and the other killed its fetus. Bystanders found the dead seal the following day with a gunshot wound to the head.
Vidinha said, "It was a horrible mistake," and apologized for his actions. He told U.S Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren he later disposed of the rifle in a trash bin.
The Hawaiian monk seal is on the endangered species list because there are fewer than 1,200 of them, and their population is declining.
On April 19, surfers at Kauai's Kaumakani Beach found the body of another Hawaiian monk seal in the ocean. It too had been shot dead.