News: The dog that runs in rough seas
Story by Christine Cabalo
MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII - Marines and Hawaiian monk seals share more than just the beach at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
Both are featured in the newest poster of the “We’re Saving a Few Good Species” series, which highlights the Marine Corps partnering with federal agencies to protect endangered species worldwide. The newest poster is the ninth in the series and was officially unveiled after “Endangered Species Day” earlier this month.
“[Monk seals are] a critically endangered, rare, unique species,” said Todd Russell, biological science technician, Environmental Compliance and Protection Department. “They share a lot of characteristics with the Marine Corps. Both are amphibious by nature.”
Several monk seals have appeared on the shores of MCB Hawaii, and base officials continually work to protect them as well as other endangered animals. The base has offered support to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to keep the seal population thriving.
“Marines and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enjoy a lot of success because we’ve got excellent communication and coordination,” said Kevin Foster, marine biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The posters are another product of that coordination, and they do a great job of reaching out to the public. The new poster incorporated elements of what we see, what the community sees and the Marine Corps’ mission.”
The base provides direct support in caring for the marine creatures and enforcing federal laws that protect them.
In the past, facilities at Waterfront Operations have been used for emergency medical procedures for injured monk seals caught by fishhooks. Currently, the base has helped transport seals by air to other areas of Hawaii and volunteers to help on the ground.
“We have been able to put shoreline pens to use for rehabilitation at MCB Hawaii,” said Rachel Sprague, assistant Hawaiian monk seal recovery coordinator, NOAA. “Being able to have them in a pen in a semi-natural environment, especially for young seals, makes it easier so they’re ready to move into the wild.”
Sprague, who has a doctorate in wildlife biology, said even enforcing beach leash laws for dogs have had a positive impact. Besides reducing the slight chance seals can contract diseases such as distemper, the law also ensures dogs and seals don’t physically confront each other.
“There shouldn’t be a competition between seals and people as long as we all think about what we’re doing,” said Bob Braun, a contracted veterinarian with National Marine Fisheries Service who has led several medical procedures at MCB Hawaii. “Leash laws are not just for seals, but for people too.”
The new poster includes artwork by Patrick Ching as well as smartphone quick response codes for the public to scan in to learn more.
Several at the MCB Hawaii Environmental Department, Headquarters Marine Corps leaders and other natural resource agencies worked on more than 20 drafts before agreeing on the final design.
Hawaii is only one of two places in the world to find monk seals, and the Hawaii species is unique to the state. Just 18 percent of the population lives in the eight main Hawaiian islands, Sprague said.
“When people see a monk seal, they may not realize it’s one of a little more than a thousand of them left,” she said. “With the rate of decline in their population, you worry your children or grandchildren might not get a chance to see them.”
Marines who see the new poster may not realize they share something else in common with the monk seals. The ancient Hawaiian name for the monk seal, “Ilio holo I ka uaua,” means “the dog that runs in rough seas.”