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Singer: Do monk seals ‘belong’ in Hawaii?

Mink seal. (Photo courtesy of NOAA)

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Sydney Ross Singer | Medical Anthropologist, Biologist, Author

Hawaii’s environmental agenda of attacking species that “don’t belong in Hawaii” is killing our endangered Monk seals.

According to an recent AP article, printed Jan. 8, 2012 in the Hawaii Tribune Herald, some residents consider the seals to be a non-native species that competes with fishermen.

The article quotes Walter Ritte, a Molokai resident and longtime activist who has sounded an alarm about the killings. “It’s really serious. This attitude, this negative attitude toward the seals has overpowered the concern that this is a species that’s going to become extinct,” he said.

The article further explains, “Ritte said part of the problem was that older people, who didn’t see many seals growing up or hear about them from their elders, are spreading the word that the seals don’t belong in Hawaii.

A NOAA report released last year showed 35 percent of those surveyed at beaches and popular fishing areas on Kauai and Molokai believed the seals aren’t native to the islands.”

This raises a critical question for our legislators to consider as invasive species eradicators come to the public trough for more money to kill plants and animals that “don’t belong in Hawaii”.

How can we tell what does and doesn’t “belong” in Hawaii? Here is a quiz.

From the following list, pick the item that best matches your personal prejudice:

Any plants or animals that were brought to Hawaii by human beings, including by the Hawaiians, don’t belong here.

Any plants or animals brought by the Hawaiians is okay, but those brought by any other culture are bad and don’t belong here. However, alien biocontrol agents, such as insects and fungi which attack plants and animals that don’t belong here, do belong here.

Any plants or animals that are useful, beautiful, or in some other way make our lives better belong here, but those that are noxious or poisonous don’t belong here.

How do I know? I’m from New Jersey. I’m just glad to be alive and be living here.

This question is especially important for the invasive species committees and their army of eradicators poisoning, trapping, shooting and infesting our islands to kill species that they have decided “don’t belong”. And now, following their lead, members of the public are killing endangered Monk seals.

This is not a new problem. The State has killed endangered species in Hawaii if they are not “native” here, including veiled chameleons, parrots, and Mouflon sheep.

But we do set aside critical habitat for endangered Hawaiian fruit flies. Foreign fruit flies we kill.

According to the feds and state, strawberry guava doesn’t belong here, but the scale insect, Tectococcus ovatus, which the government plans to release to destroy the strawberry guava, does belong here. Red mangroves, brought to Hawaii since western contact, doesn’t belong, but white mangrove (milo) brought to Hawaii by the Hawaiians does. The pigs brought by the Europeans don’t belong, but the pigs brought by the Hawaiians do.

This is not a scientific approach to environmental management. This is prejudice, plan and simple. It is something everyone understands, even school children who are encouraged to kill coqui tree frogs and bring them to school for prizes. It’s okay to kill the frogs, the keiki are told, even by burning them to death with acid, since they “don’t belong here”.

You will hear it from bullies and racists. “Get outta here. You don’t belong here. Your kind is not welcome here.”

For some, the world is divided into “us” and “them”. If you are not one of us, then you don’t belong. It is a philosophy of exclusion. It plays well in times of war because its product is hatred and violence.

And the government is at war with the environment. Beneficial species of plants and animals are being eradicated. The goal is a species cleansing of our islands of all that was introduced by humans. It is an anti-human agenda, even destroying food resources that the public has used for generations.

Of course, only animals and plants brought to Hawaii are being attacked. The machines and buildings and roadways and shopping centers and pollution and military operations and GMO test sites will not be affected.

This environmental war has sown some invasive seeds of its own, now producing intolerance and hatred for anything that anyone feels “doesn’t belong”. For some fishermen, the Monk seal just doesn’t belong.

How do you save the seals? According to the article, “Ritte believes no one would kill the seals if they understood the animals have been in Hawaii for millions of years.

He said the state and federal governments and environmentalists need to get the word out quickly that the seals belong here. Usually he would say everyone should focus on educating the children, so they’ll grow up knowing better.”

Apparently, it would be fine to kill the endangered seals if they didn’t belong here. The only way to save them is to convince everyone that they do belong here. It has nothing to do with the nature of the seals, or their right to survive as a species. All that matters is that they were here for a long time, so they “belong” here.

But what do we tell the children? “It’s okay to kill any animals or plants you don’t like as long as they don’t belong here.”

And what about the new haole kids on the block? They are different from us. They don’t belong here either. Let’s bully them, too.

In the Aloha State the attitude that others “don’t belong here” just doesn’t belong here.

But don’t be surprised if more Monk seals wash ashore. Our government’s environmental policy is working.

(Sydney Ross Singer is a medical anthropologist and director of the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease.)

2 Responses to “Singer: Do monk seals ‘belong’ in Hawaii?”

  1. rangster says:

    The moth brought here to destroy the cactus worked pretty well.

    The racial hatred analogy is disgusting. Satire aside, Mr. Singer’s jihad about ‘saving’ the terrible pest strawberry guava continues. This same guava ravages thousands of acres of multi-species habitat, turning wild forest and ravines into useless monocrop of Waiwi.

    Good News on the Waiwi Front: One of the most pestiferous plants in Hawaiian forests is strawberry guava (also known as waiwi or Psidium cattleianum). Seeds from its toothsome fruits are easily spread by pigs, birds, and other animals, and when the seeds sprout, the resulting plants form dense, impenetrable thickets that crowd out natives. Yet there is a bright spot in all this: unlike many other forest pest species whose seeds can remain viable in soil for years, strawberry guava seeds have a short half-life.

  2. Keith says:

    It’s not about getting rid of things that don’t belong here, it’s about protecting the things that were here before us. I work for the Feds and trap mongoose and feral cat and kill them. Without people like me, there would be no nene (state bird), no akiapola’au, no Hawaiian creeper, no i’iwi, no apapane on the big island among other natives which are directly threatened by these mongooses and cats. Without my friends removing pigs there would be no hapu’u, no Koa, and forests would turn to grasslands. Where is the preservist attitude for the real locals? Most of the problems we have with mongooses, Japanese white eyes and the like come from days of old where ignorant people like certain article writers who introduced a non native species for bio control to protect human interest without proper study to determine the impact. Both the mongoose and white eye were introduced to help with pests and predators of human food supplies and both have caused irreparable damage. We need to try and fix our mistakes instead of propagate a ecological disaster.


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