Kauai man allegedly cuts off head of dead seal
The state has accused a Kauai man of beheading a dead Hawaiian monk seal earlier this month on Pilaa Beach on Kauai's North Shore, and an investigation of the incident is ongoing, officials announced yesterday.
Justin Freemon, 24, was arrested Friday for violation of the state Endangered Species Act, by enforcement officers of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service, according to a joint release from the two agencies.
Freemon also was charged with intimidation of a witness, but officials did not provide any details on that charge and could not confirm last night whether he is still in custody.
A Kauai resident found the body of the decapitated seal on the remote beach May 1 and reported it to the state. Investigation by the DLNR and Fisheries Service led to locating the seal's head and the arrest, the agencies said.
DLNR spokesman Clifford Inn said the man faces a misdemeanor charge under state law because "it's our understanding the seal was already dead when beheaded."
If the seal were alive when beheaded, there would have been an added possible penalty of $1,000, Inn said.
The cause of the seal's death has not been determined.
Fisheries Service spokeswoman Wende Goo said yesterday that her agency is "still gathering facts, and when we're done, a determination will be made what they're going to do, to prosecute or to what extent" under federal law.
The penalty for violating state laws protecting marine mammals for a first misdemeanor offense is a fine of not less than $250 and/or imprisonment of up to a year.
The penalty for violating the federal Endangered Species Act, under which Hawaiian monk seals have been protected since 1976, is up to $50,000, or imprisonment for one year, or both; and civil penalties of up to $25,000 per violation.
There are an estimated 1,300 Hawaiian monk seals in the wild, mostly in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Anyone with information about the case is encouraged to call DLNR enforcement officer Tarey Low on Kauai at 274-3521.