STAR-BULLETIN / 2005
Chester, a Hawaiian monk seal who became famous with his frequent visits to Oahu beaches, was found dead on Rabbit Island Wednesday afternoon. Here, a woman takes a picture of Chester after he clambered onto Waikiki Beach in 2005.
Chester the monk seal is found dead on island
After more than five years of making appearances around the state's beaches, a "celebrity" Hawaiian monk seal was found dead Wednesday.
Hawaiian monk seal RK15, dubbed Chester, was found dead Wednesday afternoon on Rabbit Island. At about 4:30 p.m. a team of marine mammal experts retrieved the carcass.
Chester was identified through natural bleach marks on his neck and flipper. He was most recently seen on Kailua Beach, where he molted ashore for about 27 days in January.
"This seal raised a lot of public awareness," said David Schofield, marine mammal response coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service.
"It helped to build our volunteer network here on Oahu. We're very disappointed and sad at the loss of this animal."
Biologists at Hawaii Pacific University conducted a necropsy, which is the animal version of an autopsy.
"The animal did have some compromised organ system which may suggest disease," Schofield said. "But all of these cases ... are ongoing investigations, and it takes a quite a bit of time."
Schofield said there were no signs of blunt trauma or human interference in the seal's death. Tissue from the seal's body will be sent to labs nationwide for further analysis.
There might be anywhere between 80 and 100 monk seals in the Hawaiian islands. There are about 1,100 in the world today, according to NOAA officials.
The seal was first spotted in 2002 on Kauai before beaching himself on Oahu beaches starting in 2004. In January 2005 he attracted much attention from locals and tourists after he clambered onto Waikiki Beach.
"He was a seal that we knew for many years in the scientific community," Schofield said. "Then all of a sudden he was referred to as the celebrity, Chester the monk seal."
It is unknown exactly how old the adult seal was, although officials estimate he might have been in his midteen years. Monk seals typically live for about 30 years. He was called Chester because of a distinctive scar on his chest.
"Generally we refer to them by their ID number because we don't want (the public) to get too attached or treat them as pleasant, safe puppies or kitties," said Tracy Wurth, NOAA's monk seal sighting coordinator. "They are wild animals. They do bite."
NOAA officials announced Chester's death to the media yesterday because there was "a great deal of community investment" in the animal, Schofield said.
Schofield said when Chester surfaced at Kailua Beach in January, volunteers would take turns watching the animal, even sleeping at the beach to ensure his safety.
"He was kind of becoming an icon," he said. "But we got to let people know that there are even more seals out here that we need to care for. It is all of our responsibility to take care of these animals."