Rocky’s pup, RK58, who was rescued last summer, has been returned to the shores of a remote Kauai beach after six months of rehabilitation at Ke Kai Ola, The Marine Mammal Center’s hospital for monk seals in Kailua-Kona.
Wildlife officials picked RK58 up from Kauai after a mom-pup switch in August, in which the male monk seal pup accidentally nursed from a different mom. Rocky rejected him after volunteers attempted to reunite mom and pup, so officials, concerned about his welfare, transported him to Ke Kai Ola.
“RK58 was a challenging case, and it was clear after months of rehabilitative work that he would not have survived on his own in the wild,” said Claire Simeone, Ke Kai Ola’s hospital director, in a news release. “We are thrilled that he has learned the skills he needs to successfully forage, and that he has a second chance at life back on Kauai.”
Simeone accompanied RK58 on a charter flight with Kamaka Air Cargo, which was offered by a private donor. Wildlife officials monitored him in a beach pen for two days before releasing him on a remote Kauai beach, with a satellite tag attached to his back, so his movements can be tracked.
RK58 was born on July 16, 2018, and was the youngest monk seal to be rehabilitated at Ke Kai Ola. In the six months that he was at Ke Kai Ola, RK58 nearly doubled in body weight and learned how to eat fish on his own.
Fortunately, upon his arrival at Ke Kai Ola, he found company with Sole, another male, monk seal pup that had been rescued from Molokai after another mom-pup switch last summer. They became buddies, and weathered the oncoming Hurricane Lane together in August. Sole was released in November of last year.
Monk seal mom-pup switches are a natural occurrence observed annually in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, according to Ke Kai Ola, but less common in the main Hawaiian islands due to the lower density of moms and pups.
RK58 will be monitored by volunteers from the Kauai Marine Mammal Response Network.
His return to Kauai was a collaboration between the volunteers, TMMC, NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
“This was an excellent example of the public-private partnerships needed for conservation success,” said Simeone in a statement. “Conservation takes a village, and endangered Hawaiian monk seals benefit when our communities are inspired to contribute in such an impactful way.”
Since opening Ke Kai Ola in 2014, TMMC has rehabilitated 27 monk seals, the majority of which were rescued from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Hawaiian monk seals are a critically endangered species protected by both state and federal laws, with only an estimated 1,400 remaining in the wild.
Wildlife officials remind the public to keep a safe distance from monk seals, especially moms and pups. Seal sightings for all isles can be reported to NOAA’s hotline at 888-256-9840.