• Understanding, information needed with Hawaiian monk seal • When survival needs clash
Understanding, information needed with Hawaiian monk seal
Over the last few years I have spent a great deal of time looking into the controversy surrounding the Hawaiian monk seal. I listened to and interviewed fishermen, Hawaiians, marine scientists and community leaders and gathered information about people’s understandings, science and history.
The issue is not the seal, which is simply a scapegoat, but instead lack of transparent community conversations, a broken system and no trust in government. Like other issues in our community, we have allowed division to occur (because of lack of information and understanding) between groups of people that want the same thing for their community, good fish stock and healthy marine environments into the future.
Instead, big government in their unavoidable bureaucracy and micromanaging have failed for decades to properly engage the community, address their concerns and give them the answers they need.
Instead, people deny the Hawaiian monk seal, claim it doesn’t belong in our islands, that it’s not native here. Due to rumors and half-truths, that have circulated for decades, we are far from our understanding of this species, its history and origin in our islands, so much so that we deny it all together. We claim they were brought in by NOAA, or the Americans or even crash-landed here on accident when a plane transferring one from the Caribbean went down of the NWHI. Look, I have heard it all in the last two years.
As I see it, it all comes from a lack of information, of understanding, of community engagement. We must come together as a community and sort the fact from fiction, come together, with respect, to admit our wrongs and misunderstandings, validate our rights and come to an agreement about the path forward for co-existence.
The archeological evidence, historical records and the science suggests these seals were present in the Hawaiian Islands for millions of years and long before human contact.
If you review Hawaiian newspapers from the mid- 1800s there are records of Russian (and other sealers) coming to our waters for their pelts. A single ship in the late 1850s was documented as having as many as 1,500 pelts and shark skins. Like so many of our resources, animals and environments, seals too were exploited and nearly brought to extinction.
For roughly 150 years they were absent from the main Hawaiian Islands all together. Yes, your fathers and grandfathers did not fish alongside them. The species was almost lost. There are now 25 to 40 that may reside on Kauai, roughly 200 through the main Hawaiian Islands.
They remain one of the most critically endangered marine mammals on Earth. Only found within the Hawaiian archipelago, this species is one of the most ancient of all the seals. We must come to an understanding with this species, where it came from, where it went and the parallels in the battles we fight today.
Environmental scientist and director of Ohana O Kauai
When survival needs clash
Obviously, no one person should take it upon him/herself to exterminate a monk seal. This solves no long-term problems. However, no being (monk seal or otherwise) should take it upon itself to exterminate the fish that locals depend upon.
The DLNR and the citizens of Kauai need to find a way to protect both groups: the monk seals and the individuals who depend on the fish for their subsistence.
At Mana, the albatross interfere with flights so an effort is being made to relocate them so they are not in that area. In California, bears are moved from areas where they interfere with people. In Michigan, extra deer hunting tags are issued when the deer population becomes too great. In Maine, the deer population is protected by vigorously allowing a limited number of deer tags.
On Kauai, we need to find a way to control the number of pigs running wild in order to protect the unique flora and fauna and to prevent erosion. We also need to find a way to control the numbers and habitat of our monk seals to protect the fish population.
There is a reason why, for a number of years, people did not see monk seals in the Hawaiian Islands. The fish were more valuable than the seals so the seal population was exterminated. That is an extreme solution. There must be a way to balance the survival needs of the monk seal population with that of the local fishermen.