NOAA: Feral cat population control must be part of efforts to protect monk seals

Published: Feb. 21, 2020 at 2:28 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Following the recent death of an adult male Hawaiian monk seal and the serious illness of a female, federal wildlife officials are calling for dramatic action to combat toxoplasmosis. The disease, carried in cat feces, is one of the leading killers of monk seals.

“This disease has killed 12 monk seals that we know about. This is likely an underestimate given that we don’t recover every body of a monk seal that passes away,” said Angela Amlin, Hawaiian monk seal recovery coordinator for NOAA Fisheries.

One of the seals, a 2-year-old male named Sole died last month in Laie.

Another, a 14-year-old female named Pohaku, is now recovering on the Big Island after she was treated for the disease on Oahu.

NOAA said Pohaku is the only sick seal to survive in treatment for more than two days.

Amlin says the disease gets into the environment when runoff carrying cat feces gets into the ocean. She urged cat owners to keep their cats indoors to prevent the spread of the disease.

But with Oahu’s large number of feral cats, NOAA and other agencies are working on a plan that will include euthanizing strays.

“Euthanasia is going to have to be part of any solutions. It’s not necessarily the exclusive answer but any comprehensive way of addressing this will have to include euthanasia of at least of some animals,” Amlin said.

But environmental activist Carroll Cox said NOAA has it wrong.

He says toxoplasmosis can be carried by other animals such as rats and mongoose ― a point NOAA disagrees with. Untreated or partially treated sewage can also be the cause, he said.

He added that an equal amount of seals are intentionally killed by humans or accidentally killed by fishing hooks and nets.

“The science does not support their claims," he said.

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