Aggressive monk seal moved away from Maui

Aggressive monk seal moved away from Maui

FORD ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - An aggressive monk seal that has bitten and grabbed swimmers off Maui is now on her way to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Underwater video taken near Black Rock in Kaanapali a couple of weeks ago shows RL06 trying to play with some divers, but the two-year-old seal's behavior can be dangerous to humans.

"It is certainly a concern for public safety. This animal is young. She probably weighs about 200 pounds now. She's growing. She may double that in the next several years and that's quite frightening to encounter in the water," said Michelle Barbieri, a NOAA conservation medicine veterinarian.

For more than a year, scientists have heard about her encounters with people off west Maui, but her actions have become more aggressive lately.

"Those escalated behaviors include things like latching onto people's legs with her front flippers, preventing people from exiting the water, and also nipping on a couple of occasions," said Barbieri.

Researchers managed to capture RL06 in Kaanapali on Friday. They said since it was too late to change her behavior, they decided to move her far away from people. A NOAA research ship happened to be leaving for the Northwestern Hawaiian islands. Workers loaded her onto the Hiialakai at Ford Island for the voyage on Tuesday.

"It's hugely disappointing when we have to do this because the actions are a direct result of human activities and we need folks to be responsible around seals, so not approaching them," Barbieri said.

RL06 will be traveling about 1,000 miles to join other endangered Hawaiian monk seals at Laysan Island.

"Seals seems to be very charismatic animals, and it's natural for us to want to be close to them or capture some special photograph with them, but those are actually very damaging, harmful things to do for a seal's wild nature," said Barbieri.

The seal should arrive at Laysan Island on Saturday. She has been equipped with a satellite tag that will allow scientists to track her movements for awhile.

Scientists want to remind people to report any seal interactions immediately. The phone number to call is (808) 220-7802.

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