$25,000 — and growing

LIHUE — Make it $25,000.

The reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for killing a female Hawaiian monk seal pup on Kauai Nov. 30 continues to climb.

Canadian environmental activist Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and star of the reality TV series “Whale Wars,” chipped in an additional $5,000 on Saturday.

“My hope is to see deterrents in place to prevent these crimes,” Watson said. “The kind of person who clubs a seal pup to death is not the kind of person who would feel remorse.”

The message he hopes to send to others is this: “If they kill endangered seals there will be legal consequences.”

The young female seal, tagged as RF58, was born June 28 at Waipake Beach, on Kauai’s northeast coast. After surviving a dog attack in July, an attack that killed another female pup, RF58 had been spotted in healthy condition as recently as 24 hours prior to being found dead along a rocky beach in Anahola.

According to the preliminary post-mortem report from the Marine Mammal Center and NOAA Fisheries’ Conservation Medicine Officer, “The seal likely did not die immediately, but from complications associated with massive trauma and internal bleeding.”

The death is being investigated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in cooperation with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Killing a monk seal, a critically endangered species, is a Class C felony and carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine. It is also against federal law to kill or harm a Hawaiian monk seal and a conviction can include additional fines and jail time.

Watson contacted The Garden Island after reading about the incident on the newspaper’s website. He hopes the money being offered will get people talking. “It could lead to another arrest,” he said by phone from Paris. “But it will probably be another slap on the wrist.”

In April 2009, 78-year-old Charles Vidinha fatally shot a pregnant monk seal at Pilaa Beach, on Kauai’s North Shore. He pleaded guilty in September of that year and was sentenced to 90 days in jail and ordered to pay a $25 fine.

Watson said penalties like that are far from acceptable.

“A monk seal is an endangered species. It should be 10 years in prison, and a quarter million dollar (fine), at least.”

Sea Shepherd, out of Friday Harbor, Washington, has had a reward program in place for many years with positive results, Watson said. Its most recent reward of $11,500 New Zealand dollars for information on the clubbing of 23 seal pups near Kaikoura, on New Zealand’s South Island, led to the arrest of the two men responsible.

“We put up (rewards) for every case we come across,” he said. “Every once in awhile they pay off.”

If a culprit is found, Watson said he would assign Scott West, a retired U.S. federal agent whom Sea Shepherd hired in 2008 to lead its Department of Intelligence and Investigations, to push for federal charges.

“The federal charge is the way to go,” Watson said.

Suspicious monk seal deaths have become somewhat of a growing trend in Hawaii. The recent incident is the ninth suspicious monk seal death in Hawaii since 2009. There have been five since 2011 — two on Molokai and three on Kauai.

Watson, who previously lived on Molokai and Oahu, said misinformation being circulated — specifically that monk seals are not native to the Hawaiian Islands — is “pure ignorance.”

During a press conference last week, DLNR Chair William J. Aila Jr. addressed that misinformation and said monk seals are a part of the ecosystem. “My advice to ocean-goers is, ‘Get used to the presence of monk seals because they belong here and they continue to belong here.’”

Initially, the reward in the seal killing was $5,000. Within 24 hours of Tuesday’s news that the seal had been found dead, that figure doubled to $10,000. And on Friday, The Garden Island put up an additional $10,000.

Watson said Sea Shepherd’s $5,000 reward could be paid through the proper policing authority without the need for the person to publicly reveal their identity.

Anyone having any information should call the NOAA OLE hotline at 1-800-853-1964 or the DLNR’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement at 1-800-DLNR-TIP or 643-DLNR. All information will be held in confidence.


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