Cowardly attack should not be tolerated

There’s good and bad we can take away from the Tuesday night attack on a monk seal at Salt Pond.

The good is that many people on this island are outraged about what happened and such is the community uproar. And thanks to a video that captured the attack, a man believed responsible was arrested. Congratulations to law enforcement for acting so quickly.

Well done. It’s heartening to see such reaction to right this wrong and protect monk seals. Many people have compassion that make this world a better place.

But not everyone shares that compassion.

The bad is that this attack indicates there are still cowards who come out under the cover of darkness, because that’s what cowards do, is act when they think no one is looking, when they don’t think anyone will see them.

For the man believed to be behind this effort to harm a monk seal, however, someone saw him. Someone who recorded the incident and posted it.

In case you haven’t heard what happened, here’s a quick summary: RK30, a full-grown female monk seal, was attacked by an unidentified man at Salt Pond Tuesday night.

That’s illegal. Hawaiian monk seals are protected under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and state law.

Fortunately, RK30 proved to be much tougher than her cowardly attacker. She showed no signs of injury the next day and was back on the beach on the west end of Salt Pond.

Now, you might think, what’s the big deal if the monk seal is fine? Here’s why: First, it’s against the law. And second, because these cowardly attacks don’t always end this way.

On Nov. 30, 2014, another coward killed a female Hawaiian monk seal pup in Anahola. That was the fifth illegal killing of critically endangered monk seals in Hawaii since 2011.

The young female monk seal, tagged RF58, was found dead from blunt force trauma on beach near Anahola.

She was born June 28 and seemed perfectly healthy and behaving normally when seen near her birthplace, Waipake Beach, less than 24 hours before she was found dead.

According to a preliminary post-mortem report from the Marine Mammal Center and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the seal likely did not die immediately, but from complications associated with massive trauma and internal bleeding.

A savage attack against a peaceful creature resting on a beach. Doesn’t get much more cowardly than that.

Under Hawaii law, it is a Class C felony to kill a monk seal, punishable by fines of up to $50,000 and five years in prison. It also is a federal crime to kill or harm a Hawaiian monk seal and convictions can result in additional fines and jail time.

Why such penalties?

The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the rarest marine mammals in the world. The majority, about 900, reside in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, part of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. A smaller but growing population of about 200 seals inhabit the main Hawaiian Islands.

The Hawaiian monk seal is one of only two remaining monk seal species. The Mediterranean monk seal is also critically endangered, with a population of about 500. The Caribbean monk seal is extinct, last seen in 1952.

NOAA’s goal for Hawaiian monk seals is to reach a population of 3,400 individuals — including 500 in the MHI — and maintain them for 20 years, before they could be removed from Endangered Species Act protection.

Other than this latest monk seal death on Kauai, there have been four other suspicious deaths of monk seals since 2011 – two on Kauai and two on Molokai.

There also are rewards offered for the arrests and convictions of those responsible for those deaths.

Besides their natural predators in the ocean, it’s not just people that are a danger to monk seals on land.

In July 2014, a two-week-old Hawaiian monk seal pup was found dead on Kauai from an apparent dog attack. In addition to the fatality, three other endangered seals — two mothers and a second pup — were also attacked and suffered injuries.

We hope this is the end of attacks on monk seals. They are senseless. People should know better.

But sadly, they often don’t.

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