One of Kauai’s most popular Hawaiian monk seals was attacked on April 26, at Salt Pond Beach Park, and a video recording of the scuffle is circulating on social media.
The footage shows an unidentified man enter the water at Salt Pond at sunset and attack RK30, a full-grown female monk seal, in what appears to be an attempt to chase the her from her resting place on the beach.
Kauai Police Department responded to a report of a monk seal that was being attacked by an unidentified man at around 7:45 p.m. Tuesday night, according to police spokeswoman Sarah Blane.
Hawaiian monk seals are protected under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and state law. It’s a crime to harass, disturb or injure a monk seal.
“Like many citizens on Kauai and across the state, I watched a video of a man apparently attacking a monk seal at Salt Pond Beach on Tuesday evening,” said Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho, Jr. in a statement sent to TGI on Tuesday. “I share our community’s shock and disappointment as this behavior is both unacceptable and illegal.”
After the incident, RK30, known by her nickname K30, returned to the beach, said Jamie Thomton, Kauai’s Marine Mammal Response Program Coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“Once we got the report, we immediately responded,” Thomton said. “We found her resting comfortably on the beach on the west end of Salt Pond with no injuries. This morning (Wednesday morning), seal tracks in the sand show that she left on her own accord.”
Kauai PD turned the case over to NOAA’s office of law enforcement and the entity is currently investigating, with the aid of the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources.
DLNR’s spokesman declined to comment and deferred to Thomton, who said he couldn’t comment on the details of the ongoing investigation either.
“The video of the man punching it (the seal) in the face is disturbing, but it’s heartening to see the overwhelming support for K30 posted in the comments on social media,” Thomton said. “We thank the many concerned people who reported it to us. The phones were ringing off the hook.”
Kumu Sabra Kauka, who teaches Hawaiian culture through education around the island, said she was disturbed when she saw the video.
“That kind of behavior is uncalled for and is inexcusable,” she said. “Being high or drunk is no excuse. These animals are part of our ecosystem here on the islands. They aren’t foreigners. They aren’t newcomers. They have been here longer than the humans.”
She said she was glad someone took a video of the activity, and said she hopes the video will lead to the capture of the individual.
“It’s a crime. Maybe if they enhanced the film, they could find the perpetrator,” Kauka said. “We’re not the only species to live on Earth.”
She said sometimes this kind of aggression toward the Hawaiian Monk Seals stems from the commercial fishing community and the mindset that the seals are stealing the fish from their nets.
“It’s that mentality of they’re taking our food, but guess what, we’re not the only ones to live on Earth,” Kuaka said.
K30 has been hanging around Kauai for more than a decade and is about 17 years old, according to Thomton. She’s had six pups and is believed to be currently pregnant with her seventh, though he said it’s difficult to confirm the pregnancy because she didn’t pup last year.
“She’s looking like she’s pregnant, though,” Thomton said.
One thing that makes her so beloved on Kauai is that she’s a well-traveled seal. While most monk seals generally pick a beach and stick to it, K30 has made appearances all around the island and was first spotted in 2004 by a NOAA biologist on the Na Pali coast.
The scars that twist around her body have also contributed to K30’s status as Kauai’s sweetheart. She has evidence of deep net entanglement around her neck, a huge shark bite scar on her left side, and the marks of boat propellers on her belly. She’s also accumulated over a dozen cookie cutter shark bites on her body.
“She’s a survivor and all of these scars make her the easiest identifiable seal on Kauai,” Thomton said. “Her story is great and she’s beloved here.”
Anyone with information on the Salt Pond beach incident should call NOAA’s office of law enforcement at 800-853-1964, or DLNR’s department of conservation and resources enforcement at 808-587-0077.
The monk seal hotline number is 888-256-9840.
If anyone sees an incident like Tuesday’s alleged Hawaiian monk seal attack, Thomton advised to call the above numbers immediately.
“Definitely do not get involved,” Thomton said. “Report it to law enforcement.”
Written for The Garden Island Newspaper, printed on April 28, 2016. Photo taken by Donna Else.