Big Isle monk seal’s fate is unknown
What ever happened to the Hawaiian monk seal that was getting too friendly with swimmers on the Big Island's Kailua-Kona Coast a few years back and was relocated to Johnston Atoll?
Answer: The seal in question, a 300-pound male, was flown to Johnston Atoll in December 2003 after two attempts to relocate it away from people but keep it on the Big Island failed.
Though the then-2 1/2-year-old seal known as RM 34 was outfitted with a radio transmitter, the device never worked after the seal was released, said Thea Johanos, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wildlife biologist.
The seal has not been spotted since its relocation, and NOAA officials are unsure of its fate because the tracking device does not work.
Since the 1980s as many as nine male Hawaiian monk seals have been relocated to Johnston Atoll, mostly because they have bullied or killed other seals, Johanos said. Because there are no permanent wildlife officials at Johnston Atoll, how many of those seals remain there is also unknown.
The Hawaiian monk seal is critically endangered, with an estimated 1,200 animals remaining in the wild. Their only natural habitat is the Hawaiian Islands, and a majority of the seals live in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, northwest of Kauai.
The NOAA Fisheries Service launched a new effort this year to save the seals from extinction, which includes special care to help young females survive to reproductive age.
"We would have preferred to keep him in the main islands," Margaret Akamine, NOAA protected-species program manager, said at the time RM 34 was relocated from the Big Island. But RM 34 swam with and nipped people -- and could have eventually hurt someone.
NOAA officials first tried to move RM 34 to South Point, then to Kahoolawe. Both times he returned to populated areas of the Kona Coast.
This update was written by Star-Bulletin reporter Diana Leone.
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