A 15-year-old endangered Hawaiian monk seal known to many Kauai locals was found dead on a beach near Eleele on Feb. 23.

Government officials want answers, and they are asking for help from the public.

Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement and from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources‘ Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement are investigating the female seal’s death as suspicious, as it had injuries “inconsistent with any natural cause of death associated with wild monk seals.”

“Although we’re waiting for final laboratory analysis, the preliminary necropsy (animal autopsy) on R4DP indicates this seal was in good health with no apparent disease or natural cause of death,” said Jeff Walters of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service Pacific Islands Regional Office in a press release Monday.

The female monk seal known as R4DP was found dead last month on a Kauai beach. Courtesy: DLNR

Anyone with information related to the death of R4DP or any other monk seal is encouraged to call the NOAA OLE hotline at 1 (800) 853-1964 or the DLNR/DOCARE hotline at 643-DLNR — that is, 1 (808) 873-3990.

DLNR said it was the 11th monk seal since 2009 found dead under suspicious circumstances, and the first such death of a monk seal since 2014.

“That means law enforcement authorities have good reason to suspect one or more people were directly involved and their activities were unauthorized or illegal,” the agency explained. “Monk seal deaths due to interactions with fishing activities are considered in a different category, and the death of R4DP does not appear to be for this reason.”

The NMFS maintains records of all known Hawaiian monk seals.

The native seals, which number around 1,400 in the wild, are protected under both the federal Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act, and by state law. Penalties can run as high as $50,000, or imprisonment for up to a year, or both.

As Civil Beat has reported, scientists have seen recent indications that the monk seal population is slowly growing.

It’s helped by a recent federal expansion of 7,000 square miles of seal habitat around Oahu, the Big Island, Kauai, Maui and Niihau.

Still, human interactions with the mammals can be fatal for the endangered species.

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