When I first heard the news of RF58's death, I was saddened. This was a seal I knew well. But I was not surprised. Not again, I thought. How could someone kill an innocent animal-a baby-sleeping peacefully on the beach? And, The killer must be punished. I was ready to picket and protest, and paper trees and bulletin boards and beaches with reward posters. Even brave Kentucky Fried Chicken again. Since learning about the killing, I've talked with biologists, nurses, fishermen, teachers, plumbers, surfers, and a roomful of school children about it.
I think of monk seals as scapegoats of the sea. They take the brunt of misdirected anger and misinformation.
The anger goes back more than 100 years ago. Because monk seals are federally protected, they are perceived stand-ins for a government--so this line of thinking goes--that has done nothing but disregard and marginalize the people of Hawaii since the unlawful overthrow of the Kingdom in 1893.
The misinformation may have taken seed in the mid 1990s when government scientists quietly caught 21 troublesome adult male seals from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands-a string of uninhabited islands, islets, and atolls spread over 1,100 miles where 85% of the monk seal population lives today--and translocated them to the Main Hawaiian Islands. The males joined an existing few who had been spotted sporadically over the decades. Today, there are upwards of 200 monk seals resident to the shores of Kauai, Niihau, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui, Kahoolawe, and Hawaii islands.