The first two Hawaiian monk seal pups of 2018 have arrived — one on Lanai and the second on Hawaii island.
A female pup was born Jan. 6 on Lanai and another female was born Feb. 8 on the leeward side of the Big Island, according to Stacie Robinson, research ecologist for the National Association and Atmospheric Association’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program.
They are the first two monk seal pups that volunteers have documented and photographed, according to Robinson, though others could have been born on Niihau and elsewhere. NOAA will not know until it conducts a survey there.
“We have pups that are born in every month of the year,” said Robinson. “We tend to have a peak in the spring or summer, but they do pop up year-round.”
The monk seal pups appear to be healthy and doing well, according to Robinson. Volunteers from the Big Island and Ke Kai Ola, the Hawaiian monk seal hospital in Kailua-Kona, have nicknamed the pup Manu‘iwa.
Robinson said the pup on Lanai recently weaned from its mother, while the pup on the Big Island is still nursing. Few surviving pups have been born on the Big Island over the years.
At the same time NOAA recently announced the results of a study that found the Hawaiian monk seal population remained stable in 2017, with close to 1,400 seals in the isles. Last year was also a good year for monk seal pups — 161 were counted in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and 34 in the main Hawaiian isles, including Kaimana, who received most of the media attention.
The overall population trend was positive, said NOAA, and showed a two percent annual growth rate since 2013. Still, the monk seal population remains just over one-third of historic levels from the 1950s, NOAA said, meaning more work in recovering the endangered species remains.
Robinson reminded the public to give monk seal moms and pups plenty of space and view them from a safe distance because the former can be very protective. Any seal sightings on the shoreline, as well as signs of injured seals, turtles, dolphins and whales, can be reported to NOAA’s hotline at 888-256-9840.