HONOLULU — A Hawaiian monk seal that attacked almost all the pups born at Kure Atoll last year — and likely killed two — has been plucked from the wild to a temporary home in Waikiki to protect other members of the critically endangered species, officials said Friday.
The seal known as KE18 had been aggressive toward pups in the past, but his level of aggression spiked this past year when he pounced on and bit 10 of the 13 seals born at the remote atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
With pups vital to the survival of a species in peril — there are just 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals in the world and their population is declining 4 percent per year — KE18 needed to be moved before he could harm any others, officials said.
"He cannot be returned to the wild without risking future generations of seals," said Charles Littnan, the lead scientist for the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
KE18 is now at the Waikiki Aquarium, after being flown to Oahu from Midway Atoll on a Coast Guard airplane on Monday. He was captured on the beach at Midway over the weekend.
Later this month, he's expected to move to a lab at the University of California in Santa Cruz. Eventually, officials plan to send him to Sea Life Park on Oahu. All three are among just a few institutions capable of taking in a Hawaiian monk seal. If plans change, and the university of the park aren't able to accept him for some reason, KE18 may be put to sleep.
Littnan said euthanasia would be a "last option." But he said it's a commonly applied wildlife management tool, and one that would be used only weighing the benefits of losing one male versus the death of multiple seals before they've been had a chance to reproduce.
It's not known why KE18 attacked so many pups. However, the attacks have taken place during breeding season, and KE18 is a "subordinate male" without breeding partners.
This has led to one theory that KE18 is attacking vulnerable young seals because he is unable to mate.