A Kaua‘i man was arrested on May 12 for violating the state Endangered Species Act, officials from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources said yesterday.
Justin Freemon, 24, was arrested by officials from the DLNR and NOAA Fisheries Service after he allegedly beheaded a dead Hawaiian monk seal at Pila‘a Beach on Kaua‘i. He is also charged with intimidation of a witness.
The body of the decapitated seal on the remote beach was reported to the DLNR on May 1 by a local resident, officials state in a press release.
Investigators from the DLNR’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement followed leads and were able to locate the seal’s head, which led to the arrest.
The cause of death of the seal is under investigation.
“We want to remind the public that the Hawaiian monk seal is protected under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and wildlife laws of the State of Hawai‘i,” DLNR deputy director Robert Masuda states in the release.
“These laws prohibit harassing, harming or killing a monk seal,” he says. “It is important to remember that all monk seals, both alive and dead, are protected.”
A first-time violator of state marine mammal protection laws could face a fine of no less than $250 and up to one year in jail.
Masuda says Hawaiian monk seals are the most endangered seal species in the United States, with fewer than 1,300 remaining.
“NOAA Fisheries Service works closely with DLNR in conserving and protecting Hawaiian monk seals,” Chris Yates states in the release.
Yates is the assistant regional administrator for NOAA’s Pacific Islands Regional Office.
Masuda said the DLNR is continuing their investigation, and that anyone with information should contact DLNR/DOCARE branch chief Tarey Low at 808-274-3521.