East Hawaii News

Hoary Bat, Monk Seal May Split ‘Official’ Duties

March 1, 2013, 2:12 PM HST
* Updated March 4, 10:43 AM
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Move over monk seal, you may have to share top billing.

That could be the result of a bill under consideration that would make the Hawaiian hoary bat the “official land mammal” of the state of Hawaii.

The key word here is “land,” as the Hawaiian monk seal was named the state’s official mammal in 2008.

Fortunately for lawmakers who may be on the fence, there is zero competition for the two designations, as the monk seal and hoary bat are the only mammals endemic to the state, which means they are found nowhere else in the world.

The 2008 designation for the monk seal may have been prompted by the fact that the title of Hawaii’s official marine mammal was granted in 1979 to the humpback whale. But that animal is not unique to the Aloha State as humpbacks are found throughout the world’s oceans.

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Even the Pacific humpback which winters in Hawaii is shared with Alaska, where many spend their summers, and other populations of Pacific humpbacks migrate between California and Mexico or Alaska and Japan.

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The purpose of the bill is to raise awareness for the bat, also known as the ope`ape`a, as an endangered species in hopes of furthering its protection.

The bat was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1970 and, according to the bill, estimates of its population range from hundreds to a few thousand individuals.

The whale and seal are but a few of the state’s official living things that can be found in Chapter 5 of Hawaii Revised Statutes. Others include the state fish (the humuhumunukunukuapua`a, also known as the triggerfish, which was made famous in the song “My Little Grass Shack”), state insect (pulelehua, or Kamehameha butterfly) and bird (nene, or Hawaiian goose).

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Botanically speaking, there is also the state tree (kukui, or candlenut), state plant (kalo, or taro) and state flower (native yellow hibiscus, although each island has a different flower designated as official, such as the `ohi`a lehua for the Big Island).

And there are also other official titles such as the state gem (black coral), and even official pastimes such as the state individual sport (surfing) and team sport (outrigger canoe paddling).

But we digress.

Getting back to Senate Bill 775, the measure introduced by Sen. Sam Slom with the support of Sens. Jill Tokuda, Glenn Wakai and Gilbert Keith-Agaran has been passed unanimously by the Committee of Technology and the Arts and is waiting its final vote on the Senate side.

It turns out the furry critter has quite a few supporters.

Written testimony in favor the bill has been submitted by about a dozen individuals as well as the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Conservation Council for Hawaii and Bat Conservation International.

It is also supported by the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, which notes that preserving the animal’s native habitat is crucial.

“This often misunderstood creature inhabits Hawaii’s forests and roosts primarily in trees,” said Mark Fox, director of external affairs for the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii. “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of our forests, the less taste we shall have for their destruction.”

Ann Marie Kirk of Livable Hawai`i Kai Hui described the ope`ape`a as “an amazing little bat that surely deserves this honor.”

The bill notes that the bat has a wingspan of up to 15 inches, weighs about as much as a mouse, and can fly up to 60 mph as it pursues mosquitoes and other night-flying prey.

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