The unexpected birth of another Hawaiian monk seal pup on April 26 at Kaimana Beach in Waikiki has resulted in a stir of excitement.
The active pup, now about 2 weeks old, continues to nurse, snooze and snuggle up to his mother, Kaiwi, a seal well known to Oahu volunteers who regularly track and watch over the endangered marine mammals.
He also follows her in and out of the water, and has made his barking calls known.
Monk seal experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration continue to remind the public to use a zoom lens and watch from a safe and respectful distance without disturbing Kaiwi, the mom, and her male pup, now referred to as P02.
“Just like any other mom and baby, the first two months after birth are very important for new pup survival,” said Aliza Milette-Winfree, NOAA’s Oahu Marine Mammal Response coordinator. “Monk seals are an endangered species, and this is a very sensitive time for mom and pup.”
Generally, she said, monk seal moms take six to eight weeks to fatten up their pups before making their departure and leaving them to fend for themselves.
It is important that the public view Kaiwi and her pup quietly and give them at least 150 feet of space by observing them from behind barriers, and refrain from using flash photography or drones. It is also ideal to use other beaches for swimming.
While monk seals are typically not aggressive, she said, mothers can be protective of their pups and can move quickly if they feel threatened.
The pup, soon to be named by students at a Hawaiian immersion school, is actually one of four born in Hawaii so far during the height of the birthing season, which usually runs from late spring into summer.
The first pup this season was born in late March on Oahu. Another pup was born at Kalaupapa National Historical Park on Molokai and another on Kauai in April. NOAA prefers not reveal the locations of the other pups for their protection.
“For this particular season we’re off to a really good start,” said Milette- Winfree. “We’re excited now to monitor not just the Waikiki pup, but three others throughout the main Hawaiian Islands.”
The birth of another monk seal pup at Kaimana Beach was a surprise for NOAA, according to Milette-Winfree, because the seals do not typically give birth on a beach as busy as Waikiki.
Rocky astonished monk seal experts when she gave birth to her pup at Kaimana Beach in June 2017.
Although Rocky was known to frequent Kaimana Beach, officials said, she had given birth to nine other pups on a secluded Kauai beach.
Officials eventually transported her female pup, Kaimana, to a more secluded beach on Oahu’s North Shore after weaning because they were concerned about crowds and that Kaimana kept swimming into the dilapidated pool at the Natatorium.
But Rocky helped officials prepare for another birth at Kaimana Beach, according to Milette-Winfree, including how to control crowds. The community, including area clubs and hotels, also has been supportive.
“While Rocky and Kaimana were definitely a surprise, they helped us and the community to prepare for Kaiwi and her pup,” she said, “and we’re certainly going to learn from this pupping event to prepare for future moms and pups on busy beaches.”
Hawaiian monk seals are a critically endangered species, with only an estimated 1,400 remaining in the wild — about 1,100 in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and 300 in the main isles.
There may be a growing number of encounters between Hawaiian monk seals and humans as more seals give birth in the main isles. But monk seal pups should not be exposed to human contact, Milette-Winfree said, because they may not be able to survive on their own or might become aggressive as they grow larger.
Kaiwi, 10, typically gives birth along the Kaiwi coastline, where she was also born. It is where she gave birth to her three previous pups: Kawena, Wawamalu and Nohea.
After weaning, the monk seal pup typically remains in the area for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Whether this pup will be moved after weaning remains to be determined.
There has also been an increase in reports of monk seals being disturbed or harassed during the pandemic over the past year compared with previous years, according to Milette-Winfree, but this may be due to increased awareness and reporting.
Hawaiian monk seals are protected under state and federal laws, and harassing one can result in imprisonment and fines. To report monk seal sightings or marine mammals in distress, call NOAA’s hotline at 888-256-9840.
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