Federal scientists want permission to kill Galapagos sharks in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in an effort to save the endangered Hawaiian monk seal.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration proposes to kill up to 10 sharks this summer inside the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, where a majority of monk seals live.
More than 140 endangered Hawaiian monk seal pups have been killed by aggressive Galapagos sharks at French Frigate Shoals in the past decade, according to the proposal.
"The consequences of deferring action on this major mortality factor, in terms of the reduced potential for monk seal recovery, are large," George "Bud" Antonelis, protected-species division chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Islands Region, wrote in the proposal.
Scientists argue that the monk seal is globally endangered but the sharks are not.
Antonelis has requested that his monk seal research team be allowed to fish for and kill up to 10 sharks this summer, targeting aggressive animals they see preying on the still-nursing seal pups.
The request must be approved by NOAA, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. The proposal will be discussed at the state Board of Land and Natural Resources meeting on Friday.
Other efforts to save the monk seals include providing captive care to help underweight female pups and researching the diet and foraging habits of seals, said Mike Tosatto, deputy administrator of the NOAA Pacific Islands Regional Office.
The state board last year approved killing up to 10 Galapagos sharks with rifles, but none were killed, said Dan Polhemus, state Division of Aquatic Resources administrator.
Between 2000 and 2005, scientists killed 12 of the sharks by fishing from small boats with a pole and line.
This year, the scientists propose fishing for the sharks with 100-foot-long lines left overnight in areas where the sharks have been seen.
Some scientists object to the method fearing it's too risky for the seals, according to a summary of objections compiled by Polhemus. Those against shark culling say getting rid of a few sharks might not help.
"We face a really difficult situation with monk seals up there," said Polhemus, who has not taken a stance on the proposal. "If they're gone, they're gone. You can't get them back."
Information from: Honolulu Star-Bulletin, http://www.starbulletin.com