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Seal too friendly for its own good


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POSTED: Thursday, February 26, 2009

Scientists are blaming spectators for making a Hawaiian monk seal into a 300-pound friendly public nuisance and hope to protect her by moving her hundreds of miles away.

;[Preview]    NOAA Says Friendly Monk Seal Overweight
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Born 2 1/2 years ago, RO42 hawa been a social monk seal gaining weight by the food fed to her by the people she has met.

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The juvenile seal, RO42, has become so friendly that she wraps her flippers around people's waists, holds them underwater and nibbles on their heads - all normal behavior between seals.

But at 300 pounds, the seal's behavior is being interpreted as aggressive and intimidating. She is expected to reach 600 pounds as an adult.

The seal broke someone's skin at least once, said David Schofield, marine mammal response coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

For her and the public's safety, RO42 is being moved about 290 miles to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands - where there are more seals and no people.

Scientists hope moving the seal away from civilization will help it live as a seal instead of as a pet. The seal can still feed on its own, and scientists are confident it will survive the move.

RO42 was born on the Big Island about 21/2 years ago and has increasingly become a problem, Schofield said.

This is the fourth time she has had to be moved because she befriended the community. Each time, she swims back to populated areas, Schofield said. This time, scientists hope she will not be able to swim back.

“;She's become a problem for one specific reason, and that is because people have acted irresponsibly around this individual,”; he said. “;Don't feed the seals. They grow up to be nuisance animals.”;

He said spear fishermen fed her and locals and tourists petted her.

NOAA says it made the decision to move the seal reluctantly because the female was a potentially reproductive individual living in the main Hawaiian Islands, the central area of recovery for the seals.

Hawaiian monk seals are endangered, declining at a rate of about 4 percent a year. There are fewer than 1,200 seals in the Hawaiian Islands.

On Monday, scientists picked up the seal on Lanai after someone called to report it. The Coast Guard flew her to Oahu where she was placed in a makeshift pen on a secluded beach at the Marine Corps base in Kaneohe.

The brown seal napped in its pen yesterday. Today she will depart from Barbers Point aboard a Coast Guard aircraft, then transfer to a Coast Guard boat on Kauai and continue on to the island of Nihoa.