HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Hawaii has toughened penalties against people who harm endangered species, in particular against those who would harm the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Lt. Governor James "Duke" Aiona signed Senate Bill 2441 into law Tuesday morning at the State Capitol. The law takes effect immediately.
"It was a community effort, Keiko Bonk, many, many other people stepped forward and said enough is enough. We need to make this a real crime. Hopefully other people will think twice about hurting and harming monk seals," state Senator Gary Hooser said.
The new law adds additional punishment beyond the federal Endangered Species Act, imposing a fine of up to $50,000 and five years in prison on anyone who harms a monk seal. It also makes it a felony under Hawaii law to harass, harm or kill any endangered or threatened species.
"Despite the protections provided by the federal Endangered Species Act, these animals continue to be at risk. Hawaii is home to more than 300 endangered species, and all the people of Hawaii have an enormous responsibility to help protect our unique wildlife" said Aiona.
78-year-old Charles Vidinha of Kauai pled guilty to shooting a pregnant monk seal to death last year at Pilaa on Kauai's North Shore. He received a 90-day jail sentence and a $25 dollar fine. In December, a fisherman found a dead adult monk seal in waters off Kaunakakai, Molokai. Scientists determined that the seal was intentionally killed. No suspect has been arrested in that case.
"It angered some and it frustrated some and it called for a re-evaluation and a change in the law," Aiona said.
Biologists estimate there are fewer than 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals in the wild, making them one of the world's rarest species. In addition to human maliciousness, the seal is also suffering from low birth rates, leading to an estimated 4% annual decline in their population.
"There's a real beauty, when you go out in the ocean and you see a seal, another mammal surface and you see the intelligence in their eyes, you realize we're sharing the islands with these mammals and we want them to survive and be here for future generations," Department of Land and Natural Resources director Laura Thielen said.
Lt. Governor Aiona signed the bill into law as acting governor. Governor Linda Lingle is on a trade mission to China.
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