Scientists using Crittercams to study Hawaiian monk seals - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Scientists using Crittercams to study Hawaiian monk seals

Charles Littnan Charles Littnan

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Monk Seal Research Program hope a Crittercam experiment will open the eyes of fishermen to the life of Hawaiian Monk Seals.

Over the next two years, NOAA will mount small video cameras on several monk seals off Molokai, Oahu and Kauai to see their world as they do.

"What we want to do is to track the seals, follow what they're doing, see what they're eating, how much of it they're eating, and what sort of habitats are important," lead scientist Charles Littnan said.

When researchers strapped cameras to the backs of monk seals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the images blew away perceptions.

"We just imagined a seal going out and grabbing a fish," Littnan said. "They're swimming along the bottom. They're digging in the sand. They're flipping over rocks. They're sticking their heads into these little holes."

The monk seal population in the main Hawaiian Islands is growing as is animosity toward the animals, with four alleged killings in the past year.

"There's a lot of people that are concerned about whether or not seals are taking their food. Or some people are worried they're damaging the reefs down here," Littnan said.

NOAA wants fishermen and concerned citizens to get involved with this project. High school students who want to participate can enter an essay contest at www.monksealfoundation.org.

The video from the seal cams will be shown unedited at community meetings.

"It's not a scientist coming to lecture somebody about what they know. It's not somebody wondering if what they're seeing is the truth. We are all going to see it at the same time," Littnan said.

The study starts in August with three monk seals off Molokai.  Scientists hope it ends with better understanding.

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved

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