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Wednesday, December 3, 2003



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PHOTO COURTESY OF NOAA
A 300-pound Hawaiian monk seal, shown here after being captured last month, was flown to Johnston Atoll on Monday by the Coast Guard.



Persistent monk seal
relocated to Johnston Atoll


A Hawaiian monk seal was airlifted by the Coast Guard on Monday afternoon to Johnston Atoll, where it is hoped he will frolic with other seals rather than humans.

The 300-pound male monk seal, known by his flipper identification tag as RM-34, has been relocated away from people twice but keeps coming back.

Monk seals are an endangered species, and humans are asked to stay 150 feet away from them. It is against federal law to harass them. They can also be dangerous to humans.

"We would have preferred to keep him in the main islands," said Margaret Akamine, the protected-species program manager for the policy and management team of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the Pacific.

"He kept coming back because of his increasing affinity to interact with humans," Akamine said. "People were seeking out the animal, so it became habituated to humans."

Akamine said the 2 1/2-year-old seal is one of the only monk seals known to have been born on the Big Island in recent memory. She said that at this stage in his development, he should be seeking interaction with other juvenile seals but that "they are few and far between, so he interacted with what's out there: people."

The seal, who first drew notice in October when he swam into the Big Island's Kealakekua Bay to play with swimmers, was moved to the less frequented area near South Point. Within a week he was back in the bay.

Next, wildlife officials relocated him to Kahoolawe, but he swam to South Maui for more social interaction in an area with plenty of humans but shy of seals.

"Our goal is to keep animals in the wild and to keep them healthy, and that includes keeping their behavior normal," she said.

At Johnston Atoll, RM-34 should find other monk seals but few humans. If he makes a break for Waikiki, wildlife officials might be able to pick up his radio or satellite frequency from his tags.

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