Frequently Asked Questions Related to Shark Predation Mitigation Activities at French Frigate Shoals

For a comprehensive summary of the shark predation mitigation issue and the discussions/science surround it please read:

Gobush KS, Farry SC
2012. Non-lethal efforts to deter shark predation of Hawaiian monk seal pups. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 22:751-761. DOI: 10.1002/aqc.2272

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Overarching Questions and Proposed Action

  • What is the proposed activity?

    NMFS is proposing to remove a limited number of Galapagos sharks from French Frigate Shoals (FFS) because the sharks are annually killing up to 30% of the Hawaiian monk seal pups that are born there. The Hawaiian monk seal is an endangered species and NMFS is the agency that works to prevent the species from going extinct. We have permits to carry our recovery actions at select monk seal pupping sites during 2013. Recovery activities include a continuation of previously permitted activities conducted in 2010-2012 (and previously). The proposed activity would support the recovery of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument's population of endangered Hawaiian monk seals by reducing the likelihood of shark predation on seal pups at FFS. This activity, when combined with other conservation efforts, would help address the problem of low juvenile seal survival, a factor identified as one of the main causes of Hawaiian monk seal population decline in the Monument.

  • How would you accomplish this activity?

    NMFS would remove up to 18 Galapagos sharks (tail length of 200cm or greater) caught within 700m of select pupping sites. Sharks would be caught by: 1) hand line, 2) hand-held harpoon, 3) drum-line, and/or 4) small10-hook bottomset and 5) the "Net Surprise" (see below). For all methods, hooked or netted sharks will be pulled onto shore or alongside a small boat, tail-roped and killed with a bangstick. Shark carcasses will be examined (gross necropsy), sampled for future scientific analyses (isotope, fatty acid, genetic analysis) and any suitable shark tissue will be saved for use as bait. Thereafter, remains would be handled as deemed appropriate by designated Native Hawaiian community members.

  • What are the mandates supporting this activity?

    Monitoring shark activity and removing sharks are both listed in the Hawaiian Monk Seal Endangered Species Act Recovery Plan (2007) as necessary activities, critical to the species' recovery. The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument Management Plan (December 2008, hereinafter referred to as MMP) includes: 3.2 Conserving Wildlife (Hawaiian monk seals), and 3.3 Reducing Threats (predation) to Monument Resources (Hawaiian monk seals).

    The Co-Trustee's Conservation & Management Activity: Natural Resource Protection, where the Co-Trustees, including NOAA, aims to accomplish natural resource protection by conducting " actions to promote the conservation of Monument resources which includes activities necessary to carry out protection of species, such as carrying out existing recovery plans" to fulfill our obligations under the Endangered Species Act (MMP page 11).

  • How many sharks are you proposing to remove and is this a threat to the welfare of the shark population? Will this cause significant adverse impacts to Monument resources, if not why not?

    The permit specifies that a maximum of 18 sharks will be removed. These removals target only a small subset of the population, so this number is unlikely to have any detectable effect on the overall shark population at the atoll. To safeguard the ecological integrity of the Monument, we propose to not only limit the scope of our removal actions as described above, but also to avoid by-catch of any other wildlife to the greatest degree possible. Possible adverse effects on the coral reef ecosystem at FFS from shark removals were investigated using ecosystem simulation model. Results from that work indicated that the removal of 20 sharks had a nearly imperceptible effect on the dynamics of the FFS ecosystem. Expert opinion at our shark predation workshops supported these modeled results.

  • Why are you interfering in something that is natural?

    This activity might appear to run counter to the concept of "letting nature run its course" which many believe is the preferred approach in nature preserves or wild areas such as the Monument. However, the pattern of shark predation at FFS is quite unlike that observed anywhere else in the Monument, either currently or historically. Shark experts have not observed this ‘beaching’ and predation and consider this behavior to be atypical of Galapagos sharks, the vast majority of which are known to inhabit much deeper waters. All evidence suggests that only a very limited number of Galapagos sharks are exhibiting this atypical behavior, and that if all of these sharks could be removed, the predation of pre-weaned pups at FFS would be reduced significantly or cease altogether. If the monk seal population were not endangered, such that the welfare of every pup born is now vitally important, there might be a stronger case made for hands-off management. However, shark predation has been inflicting a heavy toll on the annual cohort born at FFS for the last 15 years and there is little hope that the behavior will be naturally extinguished without some direct intervention. Further, the current plight of the monk seal is owing to many factors, including some which were decidedly "unnatural" (such as habitat modification, displacement due to military occupation, and assorted other human uses), and some equally unnatural remediation is now necessary and appropriate to restore the species' to its former place in the ecosystem.

  • What is success?

    The first measure of success is to successfully remove up to 18 additional Galapagos sharks within 700m of shore of Trig, Round, Gin and Little Gin islets. Thereafter, we expect to see an improvement in seal pup survival at FFS within 1-2 years. Our expectation is that we can increase pup survival at FFS to approximate that of other breeding atolls, where pre-wean survival is typically 90-100%. If that increase in survival does not occur, then any further shark removals would have to be very carefully reconsidered. However, until the shark removals take place, the magnitude of the improvement in pup survival remains uncertain.

Science behind the issue

  • I thought tiger shark predation on monk seals was always observed wherever there were monk seals. So how do you know it isn't tiger sharks?

    It is correct that tiger sharks have long been known to prey upon monk seals, and many adult seals exhibit signs of healed shark scars, some minor and some severe. Also, tiger sharks have been found with monk seals in their gut contents, although it was impossible to determine if the remains were pups or recently weaned seals. Based on this and other evidence, we do not dispute that tiger shark predation occurs throughout the species' range.

    However, the most salient fact regarding why Galapagos and not tiger sharks are targeted for removals, is that Galapagos sharks are the only shark species observed by HMRSP to be near pupping sites charging, chasing, biting and killing preweaned pups. Although tiger sharks are sometimes observed (or detected by electronic "sonic tags") near pupping islands, none have ever been observed engaged in directed pup predation similar to that witnessed for Galapagos sharks. NMFS continues to collect data on tiger shark presence and behavior in areas where predation on pups occurs while other programs conduct research on the larger shark population. Regardless, whether or not tiger sharks prey on monk seals pups has little or no bearing on the fact that Galapagos shark are, without a doubt, preying regularly on monk seal pups and creating a situation that needs to be managed.

    This video shows a young monk seal pup attacked by a shark. [May be disturbing for some viewers.]

    A young monk seal pup is cooling off at the water's edge and is attacked by a Galapagos shark at Trig Island, French Frigate Shoals. Though the pup gets away it has lost one of its rear flippers to the shark. This pup, like many that are injured in these attacks, eventually succumbed to the wounds and died. Each year between 15-30% of the annual pup cohort at French Frigate Shoals is killed or severely injured in these shark attacks. This behavior by Galapagos sharks is undertaken by a small number of individual sharks and is only observed at French Frigate Shoals (video contains no audio).
  • Why is this just a problem at FFS? Maybe the mothers are just bad or the pups are disappearing or simply swimming away?

    This video shows the strength of the monk seals maternal instinct to protect her pup. [May be disturbing to some viewers.]

    Monk seal mothers are fierce protectors of their pups. In this clip, two Galapagos sharks, which have entered shallow waters to prey on monk seal pups, are chased off by a vigilant mother. While the pup survived this attempt, many pups born at French Frigate Shoals do not. This threat by Galapagos sharks is unique to French Frigate Shoals and is the primary cause of mortality for seals in their first year of life (video contains no audio).

    In decades of monitoring mom-pup pairs across the archipelago, there was no evidence to suggest that seals were behaving any differently at French Frigate Shoals than at any other location. However, in good faith the HMSRP undertook a study to monitor mom-pup behavior at FFS to help us determine if some aspect of mother-pup behavior might account for the high predation, or help us to identify other means of addressing the situation.

    Study of over 130 hours of direct mother-pup observations consisted primarily of nocturnal activity, which corresponds to the time when most of the recorded disappearances have occurred. We found that pups were in the water14% of the time, with 84% of these water entries in the near-shore wave wash. While in the water, pups were with their mothers 100% of the time, and on 97.3% of those occasions they were within 1 meter of her, and the remainder of the time they were within 2 meters of her. The maximum distance a seal pup ventured into the water was 50 meters from shore (1 occasion) and they were observed at 20 meters on only 3 occasions.

    These findings support the conclusion that seal pups enter the water infrequently at night and primarily do so in the company of their mothers. They do not support the supposition that mothers were inattentive or that poor maternal care was instrumental in the pup disappearances.

  • Your presentations and reports often refer to "inferred shark mortalities" and these account for a large proportion of the pup losses attributed to sharks. What are these inferred losses and why do you think sharks are responsible?

    We classify pup disappearances into one of six categories according to the likely cause of the loss or mortality: unknown cause, environmental cause (loss after a heavy storm event, high tides or strong currents), seal related (pup weaned prematurely, abandoned, or aggressive male seals), confirmed shark predation (body of a wounded pup is observed), probable shark predation (a severely wounded pup that subsequently disappears), and inferred shark predation (missing pup with no other likely cause). The only one of these categories that requires further explanation is the inferred loss category.

    As sharks have become increasingly wary at FFS, most predation events remain unobserved, occurring during night or dusk/dawn periods when humans are not present on a pupping islet. Further, because sharks are highly efficient predators, we would not normally expect to find the unconsumed carcass of a mortally wounded pup on the beach. Finally, unexplained pup disappearances are exceedingly rare everywhere else in the monk seals range and are only common at FFS pupping islets where Galapagos sharks have been observed patrolling and attacking monk seal pups. The weight of the evidence supports the inference that shark predation is responsible for such unexplained pup disappearances, and omitting those disappearances from the count of predation losses would grossly underestimate the actual predation rate. However, we remain conservative in our assessment, so that whenever some other factor might plausibly account for the loss (such as a storm, an active aggressive male, or other), the disappearance is classified as environmental, seal related or unknown.

  • How do you know you are catching these predatory Galapagos sharks?

    The only instances for which we can be absolutely certain that we have caught a predatory shark are 1) when that individual shark was previously observed (either immediately before or by identifying features) pursuing or clearly patrolling for seal pups, or 2) when remains of a recently observed healthy pup are found in the stomach contents of a shark. However, the shark researchers we consulted during the two workshops we convened to examine the predation issue were in agreement that the shallow, nearshore waters around pupping islets were not normal habitat for Galapagos sharks, and hence any sharks found there were likely to be present there for the opportunity to prey on seal pups. Findings from the shark tagging studies conducted by the University of Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology were consistent with that observation, and supported our longstanding premise that the Galapagos sharks engaged in monk seal predation were likely to be drawn from a small population of repeat offenders.

  • Won't most of the seal pups just die later anyway from food limitation, etc.?

    The most encouraging finding to emerge in recent years is the improvement in juvenile survival which has occurred at FFS. Whereas survival at FFS was formerly very poor for all ages from birth to age 4, in recent years survival from ages 1 yr to 4 yr has been improving such that the FFS survival bottleneck is focused from birth to age 1 yr. This means that any pups which survive to weaning now stand a greater chance of reaching reproductive maturity and contributing to future population growth, which is especially critical at FFS where the number of breeding age seals is already depleted by many years of poor juvenile survival. This fact reinforces the importance of improving pre-weaned pup survival by reducing shark predation through whatever means are appropriate and effective.

    While reducing shark predation is the most effective method we can undertake to improve the survival of pre-weaned and recently weaned pups, we also acknowledge that shark predation is not the only mortality source confronting monk seal pups. Therefore shark removals are but one of a suite of interventions we have implemented or planned to increase juvenile survival at FFS. First, as in previous years, we will translocate within FFS, all newly weaned pups from islets of high shark predation (primarily Trig and Gin and Little Gin) to Tern Island, where shark predation has been negligible. We may also translocate a number of pups that reach weaning to other sites in the NWHI where they will have a greater likelihood of survival. We are also investigating the benefits from reducing the parasite burden (i.e., deworming) in juvenile seals and may incorporate that action in our plans at FFS.

  • What shark research has NMFS supported to help with understanding this issue?

    NMFS logistically and financially supported a Galapagos and tiger shark tagging study conducted by Drs. Lowe and Weatherbee (2000-2003), and then by Carl Meyer, PhD. of the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB). A total of 68 Galapagos and 40 tiger sharks were tagged with sonic tags, including four Galapagos sharks tagged near islets with monk seal pups. This tagging research represents the greatest effort in terms of time devoted to sampling the shark population FFS to date (aside from commercial fishing in 1999). This research suggests that 1) using a small bottomset is a very effective way of capturing sharks and avoiding bycatch, and 2) very few sharks utilize the shallow waters around the pupping sites. Further data analysis has led to the conclusion that number of Galapagos sharks undertaking this predatory behavior is " the tens" which is consistent with the fundamental premise underlying the shark removal project.

  • What evidence is there that the sharks that are removed will not be quickly replaced by other individuals?

    Galapagos sharks are likely individualistic, opportunistic predators and their movements can be unpredictable. Movement data collected to date demonstrates that only a small number of Galapagos sharks out of a much greater population use the shallow regions of FFS, which suggests that preying on pups is routinely employed by few individuals. Consequently, we have no reason to suspect that if seal-predating Galapagos sharks were removed at the numbers requested that they would be replaced by other individuals. In fact, there is no anecdotal, empirical or published evidence that replacement is a factor or a phenomenon with this species. It stands to reason that replacement could occur but it is speculative.

    If replacement were to occur, it is questionable whether it would be quick, thus seal pups might benefit from at least a short-term reprieve or reduction in predation intensity. This would meet our goals of lessening the threat of predation in at least the short-term. If we found that the predation problem was reduced by the removals but re-emerged as a serious risk at some future time, the situation would be reevaluated and analyzed in accordance with the new findings.

Techniques Used and Alternative Strategies

  • What fishing techniques do you use?

    Fishing for sharks will only occur in what is considered the shallow lagoon inside the atoll, and only within 700 m of those islets having the highest rate of shark predation. Five different methods will serve as a "toolbox" of options to safely remove a maximum of 18 Galapagos sharks: handline, harpoon, bottomset, drumline and the "net surprise" (a remotely triggered pop-up net to corral and then dispatch predating sharks. Each method has its advantages and drawbacks. The potential for shark wariness to humans in combination with extremely low catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) near pupping sites indicates that such a "toolbox" is needed to successfully capture sharks at the numbers and in the areas we desire.

    Handlines and harpoons have the advantage of being very specific. For handlines, a line will be baited from shore or small boat. A hand-held harpoon will be used from shore or small boat when a shark is observed. A barbed shaft, on the end of the harpoon pole will be delivered by hand and the tip will be attached to wire cable and connecting line that will be used to retrieve the shark. For these methods, captured sharks will be hauled out onto the beach for euthanasia with a bangstick.

    Bottomset gear is designed for sandy substrate with no potential for snagging. Approximately 200- 350m long 1/2 inch polypropylene mainline with overhand loops at regular intervals (40-60m) for gangion (branch line with hook) attachment will be used. Each end of the mainline will have a buoy line consisting of 1/2-inch polypropylene with a cleat at the top and a Danforth anchor (9-12 lb.) at the bottom. The buoy line length will be contingent on target set depth (45-75 feet depending on depth of deployment allowed). Gangions will consist of a stainless steel lobster trap clip (snaps onto mainline loops) with 2m of 1/2 inch polypropylene, a large swivel, 2m of 7/19 strand stainless steel aircraft cable (bite leader) to a 20/0 Mustad circle hook. Sets will be made from a small boat, and with short soak times of a maximum of 3 hours (in the daytime only).

    The drumline will be of either of the following 2 designs. It may consist of a large buoy, with a chain trace attached to it and single baited hook, shackled to the other end of the chain trace. A baited hook will be suspended approximately 10 feet above the sea floor. A groundline will be shackled to the drum with a swivel, attached to a Danforth or CQR anchor and anchored to the bottom substrate. A scope of 3-4 times the water depth will be used. Alternatively, it may consist of 20ft of 1/2 in. polypropylene substituting for a chain trace, connected to the same branchline type used for the bottomsets described above. The opposite end of this mainline will be shackled to a float-line buoy that serves as the ‘drum’. A chain will be run through this buoy with the other end shackled to an 8' yellow marker line. The other end of the yellow line will then be shackled to a large red buoy with the connected float line (same used for bottomsets). The drumline set-up is a modification of what was used in 2010 so that the single baited hook rests on the bottom and does not suspend in the water column. This is preferred because we are targeting a species that spends most of its time on the bottom feeding on demersal fishes. With this design, the drum-buoy functions as a ‘bobber’ that will sink or move when an animal is hooked.

    The "Net Surprise" may be used to capture Galapagos sharks in nearshore, shallow areas. This apparatus is modeled on a design created by the Sea Mammal Research Unit, St. Andrews, UK, for catching seals in shallow nearshore areas. The "Net Surprise" consists of a central 350mm diameter deployment tube (similar to a fire hose) containing a tangle-net (nylon, large mesh, approximately 4 inches) inside of it and an underwater mounted diving cylinder (with a regulator and 10 bar pressure release valve) and air line at each terminal end. The diving cylinder and air line supply air to provide thrust and quick deployment of the tangle-net. Buoyed receivers with small antennae are connected to the diving cylinders via solenoid valves, and can be remotely triggered from the beach using standard radio equipment. Once the net is released and a shark is tangled, the net will be pulled onto the beach and the shark euthanized. The "Net Surprise" will be in 100% attendance once set. HMSRP tested the "Net Surprise" to ensure that it deploys as intended and can be pulled in quickly. Such tests were done in 2010 & 2011.

    When a Galapagos shark is caught it will be brought to shore or side of the small boat and tail-roped and euthanized with a bang stick. The use of a bang stick is a widely accepted technique for the rapid and humane killing of sharks. A necropsy will be conducted on site, including gut content inspection, morphometric measurements, and identification of sex and reproductive state. Samples will be collected for scientific study and should the remains be of interest to Hawaiian cultural practitioners they will be provided. Some tissue may be used as bait. Any uncollected remains will be quickly returned to the sea outside of the atoll.

  • The proposed methods include a provision to use dead monk seals (as recovered from critically injured pups or from other mortality sources) as bait for catching sharks. If the flesh of dead monk seals is allowed to be used as bait, it may possibly cause changes in the foraging activities of the sharks in the area. Once monk seal flesh and blood is being used to bait the sharks, and the non-Galapagos sharks are released, will the predation on monk seals possibly increase as a result of this?

    It is possible, but NMFS doesn't consider it likely. Freshly dead monk seals - many bleeding from wounds or tissue degradation - are, and have been, a regular occurrence in the NWHI for a very long time. Thus, sharks across the archipelago have been exposed to monk seal flesh and blood. Despite this exposure we have no scientific evidence that shark predation has increased above background levels except Galapagos sharks at FFS. A good example is the wounded and bleeding seals that are moved from Trig and the Gins to Tern Island. Despite their compromised condition we rarely see shark predation at Tern Island and certainly have not seen an escalation.

    The motivation for using seal flesh as bait is that it is likely to be superior to the other baits available at FFS (shark or frozen tuna) and may therefore help us achieve our objectives in the most effective means possible. However, NMFS still intends to use the bait conservatively: monk seal bait would be retrieved after use and not used as "chum", monk seal pups would be closely monitored, and predation rates would be monitored for any changes or if species other than Galapagos sharks undertake this shallow water/beaching-style of monk seal predation.

  • NOAA has been doing this for years and the problem still exists, so why do we keep trying?

    The short answer is: too many pups are being killed by sharks at French Frigate Shoals. It is exceedingly rare to lose even a single pup to sharks at any other Northwestern Hawaiian Island pupping locations, yet it is unfortunately a common phenomenon at French Frigate Shoals. So, another way of looking at the question is to ask, "If we had not been doing this, how many more pups would have been killed by now?" Without our efforts to keep pups safe from shark attacks, we would definitely have fewer pups survive past weaning. Exactly how many is not possible to calculate. However, each surviving pup can help the species survive. We need do the best we can at removing the sharks to save the pups, so we constantly look for ways to improve our methods. Until we get the small group of sharks we estimate are involved in attacking the pups, we will still keep trying. Every recovery effort counts and NOAA undertakes a variety of actions to help the Hawaiian monk seals survive.

  • You have had permits to remove sharks for a long time but have only ever removed at most a small number in any year. What makes you think you can catch 18 of the targeted Galapagos sharks?

    It is hard to catch sharks. Even the shark researchers have a hard time catching sharks, and they have worked to perfect their fishing methods for many years. Much of this low catch rate is attributable to two main causes. First, after years of harassment and fishing, the sharks found around FFS pupping islands are highly wary. Second, traditional shark-fishing techniques must be adjusted to address other concerns, particularly the risk of attracting non-target sharks, bycatch, or increasing the risk near monk seal pupping islets. We continue to refine our fishing methods, primarily through dialog with experienced fishermen (both commercial and recreational) and shark researchers, and believe that our objective of 18 sharks is achievable if we are allowed to use the full complement of techniques included in our permit request.

  • How much bycatch do you do have and what do you do with it?

    We are very careful in our fishing methods and when we catch animals other than the targeted Galapagos sharks, but we release these animals alive. For example, all but 2 fish were released alive from 2010-2012. During that same time frame we released 14 tiger sharks, 3 white tip sharks, 4 grey reef sharks and 2 ulua. In short, we are extremely careful and adapt our fishing methods to each situation to minimize any effect on other types of sharks and fish in the area.

  • Has NMFS considered the use of sharp shooters to kill observed predatory sharks? If so, what are the pros and cons?

    When we first observed the few sharks killing pups, using sharp-shooter would have likely helped to quickly solve the problem because we could have more easily targeted the sharks. These few sharks were coming very close to humans and hunting in the daytime. However, we were advised to try to harass the sharks, including chasing the sharks away by throwing rocks at the sharks. This is all we were allowed to do by the managers at the time. The sharks quickly responded by changing their hunting habits. They hunted at night; they stayed at a distance when our staff was on the beach near the pups. Since we could not be on the remote atoll on the beach with the pups every hour of the day and night, the sharks learned how to hunt around us and the other deterrents we set up. If using a sharp shooter to accomplish removing the few sharks became possible despite the shift in shark hunting behavior, we would want to reconsider this as a method for shark removal.

  • Is there another more sustainable approach to manage this interaction? What other mitigation techniques have been considered?

    The objective of the shark predation mitigation is to physically prevent Galapagos sharks and pups from coming in contact with each other. A number of other, non-lethal, methods have been investigated or implemented to supplement or substitute for shark removals. None of these alternative methods, described below, have proven sufficient to eliminate the need for additional removals.

    Translocation of weaned pups: One method used to ensure the physical separation of these two species is the translocation of monk seal pups to safer islets as soon as possible (after weaning). This method protects recently-weaned pups, but obviously requires that pups survive until, or very close to, weaning,

    Deterrent Devices: The use of non-lethal shark deterrents is a very appealing option to mitigate for shark predation. However, despite considerable investigation, we have concluded that at this time there are no methods or devices that are reliably effective for deterring sharks away from pupping islets. Over two seasons (2008-2009), HMSRP experimented with a broad range of methods and devices (including electromagnetic, acoustic, and visual deterrents) to assess their effectiveness in field applications around pupping sites. Results from these studies demonstrated that harassing Galapagos sharks and using activities and devices aimed to deter Galapagos shark predation was ineffective across multiple trials in multiple years. A more detailed analysis of these experiments can be found in this paper:

    Physical Barriers: The idea of constructing physical barriers to either enclose mother-pup pairs or impede ingress by sharks has been suggested, but determined to be largely impractical for both biological and logistical reasons. Shark-exclusion netting, similar to that used in Australia to reduce shark attacks at swimming beaches, would likely be unacceptable in the Monument due to legitimate concerns about non-specificity (i.e., bycatch), and interference with movements of other species, such as turtles, non-target shark species, and even monk seals. A related concept is to erect barriers at key "pinch points" where sharks routinely travel to access pupping beaches. However, no such clearly definable movement routes have yet been identified and any barriers would again likely impede the movements of other species. In conclusion, physical barriers while conceptually appealing are not a promising alternative to reduce shark predation.

    Move Mom-pups off the islets or out of the atoll: Regarding the question "could the population of monk seals at heavily predated sites within FFS (Trig, Gins, and Round islets) be moved to the other islets within FFS", the answer is "no", if moving monk seals is intended to mean moving pregnant females and/or females before they have pups. Moving pregnant females is too risky to their health and the health of their unborn pup and moving adult females that aren't pregnant within a single atoll would probably be futile, since they would very likely just swim back to wherever they were initially captured. Adult seals are generally quite mobile and swim routinely great distances, while weaned pups usually stay close to where they are translocated for at least several months.

    Similarly, moving females from FFS to another breeding atoll in the NWHI is not tenable and would run counter to the long-term goals for monk seal recovery. From the perspective of managing a metapopulation (a collection of interconnected breeding sites which jointly comprise the population), monk seal recovery strives to promote survival of seals at all breeding sites while avoiding the depletion of seals at any one site. To remove reproductive females from one site might contribute to depleting that subpopulation and hasten its decline. However, as mentioned elsewhere in this FAQ, the idea of translocating pups from sites with poor juvenile survival to other sites with higher juvenile survival is a viable recovery action, especially when their prospects for contributing to the breeding population are bleak when left at their birth site.


  • How are you respecting Hawaiian culture in this process?

    We do not discount or disregard the moral and cultural concerns that are associated with this project, and will to continue to work with the partner agencies, the Hawaiian community and others to address these concerns. As a research and recovery program, we value all ecosystem components and are only proposing removal of up to 18 sharks after carefully ruling out other options. We have explored and implemented every other reasonable option for mitigating this problem, including harassment of the sharks, increased human presence at shark predation sites, and all manner of auditory, electrical and physical shark deterrents. Regrettably, and despite thorough analysis and considerable investment of resources, none of these methods has proven successful.

    Over the last decade there have been several meetings and presentations with a number of individuals and organizations within the Hawaiian community, including OHA and the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument Cultural working group. The following is a summary of some of the steps that have been taken more recently to engage and collaborate with the Hawaiian community on this sensitive topic. In 2010, we invited 3 members of the Native Hawaiian community on our cruise to drop off the fishers (5 July through 11 July). The vessel's course, which included timed arrivals at selected islands, was based on the suggestions by the members of the Native Hawaiian community. The course included a visit to Kaʻula rock to perform the Mano iʻa Harvest Ceremony at approximately noontime on July 6, with the ship stationed off a cave on the northwest side of the rock. Hawaiian greetings were chanted from the vessel during two morning circumnavigations around Nihoa Island, as well as at Mokumanamana during the night as the ship passed by en route to Tern Island, FFS. The stay at Tern Island, FFS was extended by a few hours beyond the scheduled drop-off of supplies and personnel to perform a second Manu iʻa Harvest Ceremony. Our shark staff, monk seal staff, as well as the Refuge manager and other Fish & Wildlife staff participated in the ceremony, led by the members of the Native Hawaiian Community.

    In July, 2011, the HMSRP coordinated with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) to reach out to the Hawaiian community to build upon the relationships formed with cultural practitioners initiated in 2010. Our primary objective was to continue to promote an increased mutual understanding and respect between our Program and members of the community. We aimed to provide an opportunity for Hawaiian community members to accompany our staff on the monk seal camp pick up cruise to the NWHIs, spend time with our staff at FFS, and experience our seal and shark predation mitigation work first-hand. At cultural working group meetings around that time, it was voiced that the community would benefit from this type of participation by a more senior representative of the community. Thus, OHA, along with Auntie Pua Kanahele of Hawaii Island, facilitated the selection of Mr. Leighton Tseu. He boarded the OES on July 30; we hosted him at FFS from August 1 until August 17; he returned to Honolulu on August 20. The Galapagos shark's skin and jaws were distributed to G. Umi Kai for cultural and educational purposes upon our return from FFS (September 2011).

    We reiterate here our willingness to engage and receive input on this issue from the CWG, OHA or other groups but will respect the wishes of these groups and wait for their invitation to start discussions again.

  • What do you do with the shark remains afterwards? How do you honor the sharks? Will the sharks be eaten?

    After conducting a necropsy and collecting scientific samples and tissue for bait the remains are collected and respectfully returned to the sea outside of the atoll. The sharks are not eaten.

    In terms of honoring or respecting the sharks, the HMSRP continues to welcome discussions regarding cultural practices that could be incorporated as part of the predatory Galapagos shark removal activities. The HMSRP wants to promote an increased mutual understanding and respect with cultural practitioners. Cultural protocols would depend on the presence of a cultural practitioner and for this season (and others) due to logistics, cost, and no one expressing an interest to participate there is currently no plan for one to participate in our camps. While none of our staff are Hawaiian cultural practitioners themselves, they are dedicated conservation scientists with an abiding respect for nature and they act with the appropriate level of solemnity and professionalism for this activity. No one finds joy in the activity of removing sharks and they endeavor to do so in the most humane and respectful way they can. These are universal values not solely Hawaiian or Western.