HONOLULU (AP) — Animal protection groups concerned about the recent slayings of three Hawaiian monk seals offered up to $30,000 on Wednesday for information leading to the arrest and conviction of suspects.
The mysterious series of killings of the critically endangered species prompted the announcement of the reward, believed to be the highest ever in Hawaii in a wildlife case.
Less than 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals are left in the world, and scientists say the species is on course to vanish in 50 to 100 years.
"I'm sure someone knows something out there," said William Aila, chairman of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Since November, two seals were found bludgeoned to death on the remote island of Molokai, and a slain seal was recently found on Kauai. Up to $10,000 is being offered in each of the killings. A fourth possible killing on Molokai is also under investigation.
"We're all struggling with the 'why?'" Aila said. "Why would anyone do this to such social, fun-loving animals in Hawaii that have a close relationship with not only with Native Hawaiians but the local population?"
Hawaiian monk seals were hunted in the late 19th century and their population has been impacted by humans since then through killings, marine debris, entanglement in fishing gear, disease and loss of habitat.
Aila said the seals are vital to Hawaii's marine ecosystem and called the killings "inexcusable environmentally and culturally." It's also a federal and state crime to kill or harm one of the animals. Under state law, those found guilty face up to $50,000 in fines and five years in prison.
"This barbaric treatment of these warm animals is something that we cannot continue to do," he said. "We're going to have to find a way to co-exist with Hawaiian monk seals. There is no other option on the islands right now."
The money was put up by several groups and an anonymous local donor.
The Humane Society of the United States has pledged up to $2,500 for each case, or $7,500 total, while the Conservation Council for Hawaii, Center for Biological Diversity and the Marine Conservation Institute are collectively offering $7,500.
The remaining $15,000 has been offered by an anonymous donor.
"The Humane Society of the United States is very concerned because research has long demonstrated that those who are cruel to animals are often times cruel and also commit violent acts against people," said Inga Gibson, Hawaii director of the group.
She hopes the reward serves as a deterrent and "bring these perpetrators to justice" or have them turn themselves in.
The killings of the seals, which are endemic to Hawaii, have stunned this island state. They are coming as the federal government steps up its efforts to protect the seals, leading to simmering resentment among some fishermen who fear new regulations will trample upon their right to fish. The killings are also happening as the misguided notion spreads that the animals aren't native to Hawaii and don't belong here.
Aila said people need to put their differences, misinformation and misconceptions aside.
"We have to move forward and understand that the world is changing due to climate change issues, due to population issues," he said. "The monk seals are, have been and will continue to be a part of our existence here in Hawaii."
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