It seems it would be difficult to prevent Waioli from fencing its land unless the “easy trail” is determined to be part of the traditional ala loa that once ran between Waipake and Kealia — a question that is not likely to be resolved any time soon, unless someone is willing to foot the legal bill to press it in court. While I fully trust Linda Akana Sproat’s recollection of the ala loa route, since she and her family actually walked it to access fishing and limu picking areas, I recently learned that Patricia Hanwright has hired an attorney to make the case that the ala loa runs much farther inland, well mauka of her land. The Hanwright parcel, shown here, is a key segment because it lies between the coastal trail that runs from Moloaa Bay across Thomas McCloskey’s land and the public access to Lepeuli. After swimming at the northern end of the beach, I was heading back when I spotted four men and two women mugging an endangered Hawaiian monk seal that I’d previously seen sleeping peacefully among the rocks. The seal’s face was covered with a net, but its eyes met mine and they conveyed terror, which left me with a sickeningly disturbed feeling that still lingers. Although signs erected around a snoozing seal further down the beach warned the public to stay away, this group was allowed to conduct the equivalent of an alien abduction— taking blood and fat samples, swabbing all its orifices and gluing a radio transmitter onto its back — because they are federal scientists striving to protect the seal, or at least help us humans figure out how to do so -- provided it doesn't cause our species too much inconvenience. While I understand the NOAA and NMFS folks have the very best intentions — which, as we all know, also pave the proverbial road to hell — if you check out the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for studying the dwindling seal population, you really have to wonder just how much trauma will be inflicted upon these native marine mammals in an effort to “recover” them.
Some of the more controversial proposals include vaccinating the seals against diseases they don’t currently have and conducting various hazing activities — like administering electric shocks and making big noise — as part of a “behavior modification” effort aimed at “discouraging undesirable seal behavior in the Main Hawaiian Islands, such as interactions with humans or domestic animals.” No mention is made of shocking errant people or dogs that venture too close to the seals, however. Researchers also would continue to attach flipper tags, move juveniles to various locales around the Hawaiian archipelago and relocate aggressive males. It’s all designed to “promote the long-term viability of the Hawaiian monk seals in the wild” and “allow for reclassification to threatened status, and ultimately, removal from listing under the Endangered Species Act.” But while there were plenty of ideas for aggressively messing with the seals, I didn’t see anything that required humans to take any significant, sacrificial steps, like reducing commercial fishing quotas, cleaning up the ocean, slowing global warming and its associated sea level rise or halting Navy war games in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the seals’ primary breeding area.
A friend who regularly messes with albatrosses — in the name of science, of course — justified her actions by saying, “We play devil so often, it’s nice to have a chance to play God.” But after witnessing the vigorous resistance of albatross and seals to our efforts to help them, I have to wonder if we really know the difference, and why we don’t devote instead significantly more efforts to altering the human behavior that is proving so deleterious to both our own survival and the wild creatures that share the planet.