An endangered monk seal pup found dead on the North Shore of the Hawaiian island of Oahu last month was most likely killed in a dog attack, federal officials said.
The pup, tracked by researchers as RS48 but otherwise known as Ho‘omau Lehua, was born Feb. 23 not far from where she was found dead on June 12, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries said in a statement Thursday.
The seal had puncture wounds and other injuries, and officials believe she most likely died from a dog attack. There was no evidence of underlying disease, the agency said.
Ho‘omau Lehua was at least the second monk seal to have been killed on Oahu this year. On March 12, RQ76, also known as Malama, was reported dead on the Westside, not far from the North Shore, NOAA Fisheries said.
Malama's likely cause of death was found to be "intentional killing" by blunt force trauma, and a reward is being offered for information leading to a conviction in her death, the agency said.
NOAA Fisheries said an off-leash dog was responsible for Ho‘omau Lehua's death and noted that that would be illegal under Honolulu law, which covers Oahu.
Agency officials did not immediately respond to an inquiry about whether it would pursue any potential dog owners in the seal’s death.
Off-leash dog attacks on wildlife are not unusual on Oahu, and at least one other seal has been killed and several have been injured in such attacks, according to NOAA Fisheries.
Federal officials estimate the monk seal population to be 1,570, a number representing a decline from the first half of the 1900s but also one that includes an additional 400 seals in the last two decades and a more recent growth rate of 2%.
Lack of food has been cited as a culprit in the seals' endangered status.
As an endangered species, the monk seal, which is indigenous to the Hawaiian archipelago, is protected under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and state law.
Actions to take, harass, harm, pursue or kill such an animal are prohibited, and those prosecuted under the federal act could face up to a year in federal prison and a $50,000 fine.
The nonprofit Hawai'i Marine Animal Response said its volunteers spotted Ho‘omau Lehua days before her death.
"Finding her was incredibly sad for our team since she had been seen only a few days prior, had looked fine, and had been monitored since she was born," it said in a monthly update.
The organization helped take the monk seal to a NOAA Fisheries facility for examination.