A bill recently became Hawaiian state law, increasing penalties for those caught intentionally harming Hawaiian endangered animals, including the Hawaiian monk seal. Doing so could result in up to a $50,000 fine and five years in prison, as hurting endangered animals has been raised to a class C felony. The Hawaiian monk seal was targeted to be the primary beneficiary of the bill.
The Hawaiian monk seal is currently considered to be critically endangered, with an estimated 1,000 individuals remaining. They are endemic to the Hawaiian Islands and prefer living on islands mostly uninhabited by humans. They eat fish, octopus, eel, and lobster, which they dive as deep as 600 feet to obtain. They have the ability to slow their heart rate down to 10% of the norm when they are diving, reducing their need for oxygen, and increasing the amount of time they can stay underwater, up to 20 minutes.
Because of their aversion to human activity, Hawaiian development is a major factor in the animal's decline. Also, the seals have been historically hunted for their meat and skin, as have the animals that they prey upon, leading to a decrease in available food for the species. Becoming entangled in fishing nets and predation from sharks also have reduced the seal's numbers. Conservation efforts, in addition to the increased penalties mentioned previously, include cleaning marine toxins from their habitat, disallowing humans from certain parts of certain islands (to minimize interaction), removing sharks from areas that the Hawaiian monk seals dwell, and changing fishery regulations to design more seal-friendly methods of gathering fish.