Sealed fate

Molokai residents say a federal agency should not have removed a Hawaiian monk seal without their consent

By Gary T. Kubota

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Oct 22, 2009

Molokai residents flew to Oahu to protest a federal agency’s removal of a nearly blind Hawaiian monk seal from waters off Kaunakakai.

The residents, who held signs yesterday in front of the Waikiki Aquarium where the seal was taken, said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration removed the seal known as “KP2″ without consulting the Molokai community.

They also said the seal should have been treated for cataracts months ago.

“The kids loved that seal,” said Molokai resident Karen Holt. “There was no opportunity to say goodbye. Nothing.”

Keiko Bonk, the Hawaii program director for the Marine Conservation Biology Institute’s monk seal campaign, said there needs to be more communication between the community and NOAA seal recovery officials.

Hanohano Naehu, who lives on Molokai, said federal officials need to find a better way of working with Hawaii residents in the recovery of the monk seals, especially with the animal’s numbers increasing on the island.

Molokai resident Walter Ritte said NOAA should treat the seal medically for cataracts and then bring him to Molokai and establish a place for him at a the fishponds along the shoreline.

[Preview] Protest held for KP2 monk seal

A few people from Moloka’i went to the Waikiki Aquarium to protest the Monk Seal KP2 being taken into captivity.

[ Watch ]

In partnership with KITV.com

Federal marine mammal response coordinator David Schofield said NOAA received calls from residents and teachers on Molokai about the need to remove the monk seal, which weighs about 160 pounds and was “getting too big.”

Julie Lopez, a NOAA volunteer and Molokai resident, said the seal was becoming aggressive and held a woman underwater for 30 seconds.

Lopez said the woman, who swims daily, once swam with KP2 but the incident scared her.

“He was starting to do that to the little kids as well,” Lopez said.

Lopez said she and other volunteers recommended the removal of KP2.

Lopez said KP2 also lay on the catwalk at Kaunakakai pier and when people came up on him from the back suddenly, he would lunge at them.

KP2 was rejected as a pup by his mother on Kauai after his birth in May 2008.

NOAA officials raised the pup at the agency’s fisheries research facility at Kewalo on Oahu and released him at Kalaupapa in north Molokai in December.

Schofield said the seal appeared at Kaunakakai wharf in March and began exhibiting rough play in July, jumping on surfboards and wrapping his flippers around people and nibbling and biting.

Schofield said marine officials had been in discussion since July and spoken in schools and at canoe clubs about the need to stop people who were feeding the seal and playing with him .

“We explained that if you stopped the interaction with the seal, he will eventually go away. … However, the interaction with the seal continued,” Schofield said.

Schofield said the community was informed that the seal would be removed before the end of October.

Schofield said the animal had vision loss of 10 percent to 20 percent when he was released, but seals are able to function in the wild because they also have other sensors.

He said the seal was examined a couple of times this year but it was only after he was brought to Honolulu that officials found the animal had 80 percent vision loss.

He said establishing a sanctuary for KP2 on Molokai would be too expensive at this time and federal officials have been talking to Sea Life Park officials about accepting KP2.

Monk seals, listed as a federal endangered species, were hunted to near extinction in the 19th century, but their numbers have grown to more than 1,100 in the Hawaiian archipelago and close to 110 in the main Hawaiian Islands, according to NOAA.

CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM

In a protest outside the Waikiki Aquarium yesterday, Molokai resident Walter Ritte said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration should treat the monk seal KP2 medically for cataracts and then bring him to Molokai and establish a place for him.

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