The rain had just passed, but white clouds were still clinging to dark green mountains, where a squall released the last of its moisture, when Koko and I headed to the beach this morning.
The sun beat us there, but we were otherwise alone, unless, of course, you count the iwa soaring on the currents and the cardinals cheeping in the bushes and the pueo cruising above the treetops. I’d finished swimming and Koko had finished racing up and down the sand and we were sitting on a rock, admiring the shimmer, when a glossy monk seal rolled up in the surf, not 25 feet away.
We exchanged blinking gazes for a few minutes, and she came up farther onto the beach and then I picked up Koko and we crept away, to let her have it all to herself, but she didn’t stay long, and as I watched from the hillside above, she shimmied back into the surf and swam away.
I felt honored — blessed — to have had such an encounter, so it was with bewildered puzzlement that I read the admission of guilt by monk seal killer Charles Vidinha in today’s The Garden Island:
Vidinha admitted that he was at Pila‘a Beach on Kaua‘i’s North Shore on May 21 when he saw a Hawaiian monk seal in the shallow waters off the beach.
He used his Browning .22-caliber rifle to fire four rounds at the seal, RK06, two of which hit and killed her.
“Vidinha knew it was a Hawaiian monk seal at the time he fired his rifle at her,” the [plea] agreement states. “Vidinha subsequently destroyed the rifle that he used to commit this crime. Vidinha deeply regrets his actions and he apologizes to the entire community.”
But the story was missing the one thing that everyone interested in this issue wants to know: why?
Why, instead of feeling honored or blessed at seeing one of the world’s most endangered marine mammals, did he instead have the desire to shoot her?
Is he senile? Insane? Was he feeling bored? Impulsive? Does he regularly shoot at animals that pose him no threat and will provide him with no meat? Or was this a random act of senselessness? Did he shoot the other seal? Was it a copycat crime?
In killing that seal, Vidinha also killed her pup, which was nearly ready to be born. That’s a big loss to a rapidly dwindling population of animals that has been around for at least 13 million years, but is now disappearing, like so many others, in an environment greatly — perhaps irrevocably — altered by man.
Saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t cut it. Ninety days in jail, even for someone who is 78 years old, is pretty minor. A $25 "special assessment" — far less than you’d be charged for driving without a seat belt — is a joke. If he couldn't pay more, let him do community service.
But fines and jail time won’t bring back that seal, or make much difference in the psyche or actions of someone who engages in such bizarre, abhorrent behavior.
The least he could do is tell us why.