Feds plan to euthanize aggressive monk seals

Posted by marti@kahea.org at Aug 06, 2011 01:55 AM |
NMFS decision to kill two aggressive male monk seals draws heavy criticism
Feds plan to euthanize aggressive monk seals

Hawaiian Monk Seal

Update 8/16/11: NMFS was unable to locate the two seals and so they were not euthanized.  While we are glad that they have not been killed, we remain concerned about the fate of the young pups born on Kure Atoll and hope none are lost in attacks from these two aggressive seals.  NOAA insists that they conferred with other agencies and stakeholders, but we think the process could have been more transparent as the general public did not know what was going on until it was too late for input.  Also, it should be said that the proposal was to euthanize a single monk seal, not two (as the other showed aggressive behavior, but not at a level that justified killing). This issue obviously has many layers--we'll continue to update as we learn more.

A clandestine mission to euthanize two monk seals was made public today in a press statement from the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (PMNM) Management Board.   The decision to kill these seals was made by Michael Tosatto of the Pacific Islands Regional Office in the National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The decision is drawing considerable criticism given the fact that not all of the alternatives to killing the seals have been fully explored. A local news poll shows the majority of people support finding an alternative to euthanizing the seals. (Link to news poll).

Most disappointing is Mr. Tosatto's decision not to investigate the use of testosterone inhibitors to limit the aggressive behavior of these seals.  Testosterone inhibitors have been used in other species to successfully prevent this type of male aggression on immature females, but has not been studied in monk seals. Why not?! Pup deaths due to the aggression of male seals has been a long standing problem in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands -- these two seals in particular have been doing this for several years!!!  Why act now to kill them, without at least trying biomedical interventions in the interim years?!   And what are we to expect for future aggressive male seals?  This problem is expected to only get worse as the monk seal population continues to decline in the immediate future.  It seems negligent for NOAA to anticipate an increase in male aggression and not investigate alternative management tools other than killing the seals.

While the press statement points a recent spike in aggression as the "emergency" basis for this action, it is my understanding that the real "emergency" is the anticipated lack of federal funding for future voyages to the NWHI -- that is to say, if they don't kill the seals now, they may never have the chance to.  This is not a real emergency -- it is just poor decision-making.

NOAA has had years to address the aggression of these two male seals and chose to do nothing.  And is now using budget shortfalls to justify an unnecessarily extreme action. Priority funding should be given to saving the monk seal from extinction -- if at least to prevent "emergency" decisions like this one. Let's cut the A/C at the plush PMNM and NMFS offices, before we give up on funding future monk seal recovery efforts in the NWHI.

The federal government made a policy decision in 1976 to not allow the Hawaiian monk seal to go extinct.  Since then, however, the U.S.  has done little to actually fulfill that policy decision. What will it take for the U.S. to step up to its natural resources obligations?

Moreover, when funds are short is exactly when decisionmakers should rely more (not less) on the public process.  Mr. Tosatto purposefully kept this unpopular decision secret -- that was a significant part of his mistake.

With greater public involvement, who knows what we could have accomplished.  We may have had the leverage to pressure an institution like the Waikiki Aquarium or Sea Life Park to take the seals -- even temporarily -- instead of killing them.  We could have forced the issue of studying testosterone inhibitors or other biomedical interventions to prevent male aggressions -- instead of killing them.  The public should be seen as an ally, not an obstacle, in the collective effort to save our endangered species. It should not take a series of anonymous phone calls and pointed emails to force this issue into the sunlight.

There may be little we can do at this point to save these two monk seals, but at the very least we can impress upon the powers-that-be that they botched this one and we expect far better in the future -- starting with a more transparent decision-making process.

Click here to email Mr. Tosatto's boss with your thoughts on his decision to kill two monk seals without first investigating alternatives such as testosterone inhibitors.

Click here to read news reports of the proposal.

Photo credit: USFWS

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Darin Padula says:
Aug 09, 2011 06:08 PM
I hadn't heard about this- thanks for bringing it to my attention! Not knowing the real story, I'd hypothesize that they are doing 1 of 2 things:
Tearing up and killing valuable breeding age females
or, having little access to females
Attempting to mount newborn pups, and thus crushing and killing them.

You are probably familiar with when this was done in the past, and it may have been determined that the political backlash (that happened last time seals were moved from the NWHI to main islands) is just too much, or perhaps no one was willing to take the animals... or it may be that these two animals are very old, and so judicious removal from the population makes the most sense, in the result of preserving newborns and females?
I just don't know, but I do know that it's not a decision that anyone would take lightly at the program. Things must be really bad on Kure for them to have authorized this!
Oh, and in regards to regularly administering testosterone inhibitors to the animals in a remote place like Kure, it's not something that is physically and medically reasonable to consider, despite what the article claims. Sadly, the Kaheka publication is written in a way that assumes that the government group of experts should spend their budget on popular ideas, instead of effective ones. I think that was their major mistake. Still, it's a tragedy, but not one that anyone is taking lightly, I'm sure.
Darin Padula says:
Aug 09, 2011 06:14 PM
P.S. Though I no longer work for NOAA or the Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii, which contracts to NOAA, I did spend 5 years as a veterinary technician for the Protected Species Division of the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC). That is the research counterpart to PIRO, the NOAA policy department that made this decision. I'm not speaking for NOAA, but I do know that a decision of this magnitude wasn't made on a whim, and certainly shouldn't be judged based on the popularity of the idea. If they could, and had unlimited funds, they'd take them away to someplace magical and safe, but they can't, so perhaps do some more reporting. I'd be interested to read what reasons they had, but the reality is that the field season, the time when human beings are even on Kure, is fast drawing to a close. Perhaps those pressing time constraints leave little options. These are just a few of the 'realities' that occured as possible reasons to me. I imagine one, or more, might apply, and I think that your publication should reflect that, instead of making it sound like NOAA is in the business of killing seals indiscriminately.

KauaiOcean says:
Aug 10, 2011 06:19 PM
NOAA Fisheries has posted an update about the decision-making process on their website. They did exhaust all other permitted options.
KauaiOcean says:
Aug 10, 2011 06:20 PM
Sorry, here is the link - http://www.fpir.noaa.gov/
Get informed. says:
Aug 10, 2011 11:40 PM
This is absolute propaganda. why the insistence on always having to stoke paranoia and drama. It is a difficult decision done reluctantly. IF you read the recent monk seal PEIS they talk about all sorts of new things they are considering for situations with seals with bad behaviors. This is a shameful article.
Mikahala Roy says:
Aug 18, 2011 03:08 PM
Is it true that by report from a Maui newspaper, one monk seal has gone "missing"? If they have carried out their misguided action to hurt 'ilioholoikauaua, at least have the intestinal fortitude to announce it and face what they will face from the public. Noaa is WRONG in this and many more actions. I've called the office of Jane Lubchenko (202-482-3436) in Washington D.C. who oversees Noaa's Pacific Regional Director Michael Tosatto - got the report that she's traveling through the 29th. I made sure that she'll get the message I called today and that she'll get it TODAY -- it's NOT O.K. to wait. I've called the Fish & Wildlife Service in Washington AND have contacted the offices of Hawaii's congressional delegation. No more clandestine operations in noaa where it comes to our endangered wildlife. No more pain to the SPIRIT and to the first people of Hawaii and others who love Hawaii.

Mikahala Roy, Kahu Ahu'ena Heiau - Kamakahonu
sandra morey says:
Dec 15, 2013 12:24 PM
I can't imagine euthanizing 2 males without at least trying testosterone inhibitors.
norbert Farrell says:
Dec 15, 2013 12:27 PM
Why now? In the last few years bio-medical solutions such as testosterone inhibitors have become available. How about giving them a try before making a single decision to kill 2 genetically important males of this endangered species. Pups have a lot more problems than 2 aggresive male seals.
liu wai ling says:
Feb 15, 2014 07:40 PM
please stop killing the seal, they have right , respect and responsible animals alive,
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