Endangered Seals Found Dead in Hawaii Were Killed by Humans, Officials Say

U.S. officials are investigating the deaths of two endangered Hawaiian monk seals found on the island of Molokai, Hawaii.

The two animals, a 4-year-old male and a 3-year-old female, were found to have died due to human-inflicted trauma, Hawaiian news channel KHON2 reported citing National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials.

The seals were identified because of their tracking numbers. The animals were both born on the island and had been spotted in a healthy condition weeks before their deaths.

The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the most endangered species of seal in the world. For decades their numbers had been shrinking and though they are now rising—thanks in part to recovery efforts—the current population is only a third of historic levels, according to the NOAA.

There are estimated to be 1,400 of the animals on the planet, with the majority of those living in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Hawaiian monk seals are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. People can be fined or jailed for harming them.

In 2018 an Alabama resident paid a $1,500 settlement just for touching one, in addition to harassing a sea turtle, on the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i.

Despite this, Hawaiian monk seals have been repeatedly dying in what appear to be intentional killings. The NOAA calls such incidents "ongoing and of serious concern."

The NOAA states at least seven of the animals have died in suspicious circumstances since 2009, KHON2 reported.

The administration adds that, as of 2018, most of the overall intentional killings had been from "blunt force trauma" while at least four had died from apparent gunshot wounds at that time.

Death by humans aside, other threats facing the Hawaiian monk seal include food limitation, being eaten by sharks, entanglement in fishing gear, and habitat loss.

They are also affected by disease, including toxoplasmosis—a parasitic infection. At least 13 deaths have been attributed to this.

Hawaiian monk seals tend to grow to between 400 and 600lbs and a length of 6 to 7ft. They can have a maximum age of more than 30 years.

They eat a variety of foods including fishes, squids, octopuses, and crustaceans like crabs. They tend to dive to the sea floor to forage, holding their breath as they do so.

NOAA officials are asking anyone with information about the two deaths to call them at (800)-852-1964.

Monk seal
A stock image shows a monk seal on the North Shore of Oahu. Hawaiian monk seals are listed as endangered in the Endangered Species Act. zackwool/Getty