State and federal officials have rescued the pup that Rocky the Hawaiian monk seal recently gave birth to on Kauai following a mom-pup switch.
Rocky’s pup, RK58, a male, was transported from Kauai to the Big Island Saturday with the help of the U.S. Coast Guard, and is now in the care of Ke Kai Ola, the Hawaiian monk seal hospital run by The Marine Mammal Center in Kona.
On July 16, Rocky returned to Kauai to give birth to RK58, which was a relief for wildlife officials following her famous birthing of Kaimana, a female pup, last summer, at the popularly frequented Kaimana Beach Park in Waikiki. This time, she gave birth on a remote Kauai beach near two other mom-pup pairs.
While on the beach, RK58 switched to another monk seal mom to nurse, which wildlife officials say is a natural occurrence in the Northwestern Hawaiian isles, but less common in the main Hawaiian isles due to the lower density of moms and pups.
When the pup switched moms the first time after five days, Rocky took him back. When he did it again last week, she rejected him, displayed signs of aggression and left the area.
Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and state Department of Land and Natural Resources were concerned for the pup since he had only nursed 19 days, short of the usual 35 to 50 day period, and decided intervention was necessary before weather conditions worsened.
Pup switches are a natural occurrence in the Northwestern Hawaiian isles, according to Ke Kai Ola, but less common in the main Hawaiian isles due to the lower density of moms and pups.
“While surprising to see a second mom-pup switch on the main Hawaiian Islands, The Marine Mammal Center is prepared to provide rehabilitative care to any Hawaiian monk seal in need,” says Claire Simeone, the center’s hospital director. “Each individual animal’s survival is critical to support the recovery of the population, and we are grateful to give RK58 a second chance at life.”
RK58 joins Sole, a male Hawaiian monk seal pup that was just rescued from Molokai following another mom-pup switch, at the center. He will, however, remain quarantined until veterinarians can confirm he is free from infectious disease.
Both pups were malnourished upon arrival. RK58 will be tube-fed until he is ready for whole fish. Sole is doing well, and transitioning from tube-feeding to whole fish.
Since Ke Kai Ola opened in 2014, a total of 23 monk seals have been rehabilitated, mostly from the Northwestern Hawaiian isles. RK58 is the third pup from the main Hawaiian isles to be rehabilitated at the center.
“This is an unfortunate but natural occurrence that we do see in the wild,” said Jessie Bohlander, research marine biologist for NOAA’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program in a news release. “We are lucky to have a great partnership between NOAA, the Hawaii DLNR, The Marine Mammal Center, and others to quickly handle these situations and are hopeful that RK58 will do well at Ke Kai Ola and be successfully released back to the wild.”
Wildlife officials remind the public to remain a safe distance from Hawaiian monk seals, especially moms and pups. Seal sightings can be reported to NOAA’s hotline at 888-256-9840.