Two rescued Hawaiian monk seal pups weathered Tropical Storm Lane on the Big Island together and are now like siblings, marine experts said.
“They’re fed separately but spend the majority of the day together, and they love being together,” said Simeone.
The two were introduced about two weeks ago at Ke Kai Ola, and were a little hesitant at first, according to Simeone, but then quickly bonded. They play chase, swim loops around one another, and sometimes sleep cuddled together.
“Now they’re pretty much inseparable,” she said. “They like to swim together, and sleep together, which is common… Both of them are learning how to eat, how to catch live fish and really exploring their environment, which is exactly what they’re supposed to be doing out in the wild.”
During preparations for then-Hurricane Lane last week, the pair was evacuated from Ke Kai Ola, which is at sea level at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority, along with volunteers and staff, for two days, but were able to return to the hospital over the weekend, with no mishaps. As it turns out, the Kona side of the island felt few effects from Lane, she said.
The hospital has contingency plans in place, and is ready, should another hurricane approach.
Both male pups were left to fend for themselves over the summer after they switched to other moms to nurse, a behavior scientists have observed in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Sole, a prematurely weaned pup named by the Kalaupapa community on Molokai, was rescued and brought to Ke Kai Ola in July.
Monk seal mother, Rocky, left her pup, RK58, after a mom-pup switch on Kauai. Rocky was the seal that created a stir by giving birth to a pup at Kaimana Beach in Waikiki last summer. Federal and state officials rescued RK58 and brought him to Ke Kai Ola in August.
Both pups are gaining weight and doing well, according to Simeone.
Sole is eating fish on his own, while RK58 is still being fed fish milk shakes. Sole weighs about 60 pounds, and RK58 weighs about 75 pounds. Although RK58 weighs more, he looks up to Sole like an older brother, and is watching him to learn how to chase after live fish.
Both pups will eventually be returned to the wild when they are ready, said Simeone, but probably not for several more weeks.
Since opening in 2014, Ke Kai Ola has rehabilitated 23 monk seals, most of which were rescued from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
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.