Researchers want to bring Hawaiian monk seals closer to main islands

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A wildlife move draws mixed reaction. Most everyone loves Hawaiian monk seals but competing against them is a different matter.  Oahu fishermen are fighting a plan to bring more seals to the main islands.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) researchers say the Hawaiian monk seal population has dropped 40 percent in the last 10 years.  There are only about 1,100 left.

NOAA says 80 percent of monk seal pups in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands die before they're three years old.  That means they don't reproduce.  Yet down around the main Hawaiian island chain they survive much better.  So NOAA wants to move female pups from the Northwestern chain down to the main island chain.  Then they would move them back when they're three years old.

They say pups are resilient and they've been successful relocating the animals in the past.  At most they would move 60 seals but would start with about 10 to make sure it works.

"This environmental impact statement is proposing monk seal management activities not human management activities," said Jeffrey Walters, Ph.D., NOAA Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Coordinator.

Right now it's only a proposal.  NOAA does not have the permission yet and part of the process is to get public testimony even though it would not add anymore restrictions or regulations to people.

"There are fisheries concerns there are cultural concerns, so there is no substitute for public input," said Dr. Walters.

The fishermen wore their affiliation on their shirt and their emotions on their sleeve.

"We have grave concerns about translocating to the main Hawaiian Islands," said Ed Watamura, Waialua Boat Club.

"Keep wild seals wild," said Warren Vonarnswaldt, Fisherman.

"I still don't understand why people have to play with Mother Nature," said Dean Ogoshi, Fisherman.

"Let's help the monk seal by ending human intervention," said Roy Morioka, Fisherman.

"In the last five years I've lost 20 to 25 percent of my income due to seals wrecking our gear," said Eric Wagenman, Fisherman.

Not everyone was against NOAA's plans.  Some want researchers to do whatever it takes to save the seals.

"It's an iconic species, very important to the marine ecosystem and needs to be recovered in order to have a healthy ocean," said Keiko Bonk, Save Our Seals. "We're over fishing, the oceans are being depleted but the seals didn't do that the humans did that.  That's a scapegoat for them to start blaming seals."

"I just want to emphasize this isn't the end of the process there are ongoing meetings and hearings we will have," said Dr. Walters.

This was the first of six meetings to be held across the state.  You can also submit your thoughts in writing to the NOAA office until October 17.  Submit by email at:

Mail or Hand deliver comments to:

Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Actions PEIS

Marine Mammal Branch Chief

Pacific Islands Regional Office

NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service

1601 Kapiolani Blvd. Suite 1110

Honolulu, HI 96814

For more information about the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement click here:

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