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Officials remind public to stay away from Hawaiian monk seals at Kaimana Beach

  • DIANE S. W. LEE / MAY 6
                                Hawaiian monk seal RK96, also known as Kaiwi, and her pup lounge at Kaimana Beach in Waikiki.

    DIANE S. W. LEE / MAY 6

    Hawaiian monk seal RK96, also known as Kaiwi, and her pup lounge at Kaimana Beach in Waikiki.

State and federal wildlife officials are reminding the public to give Kaiwi, the Hawaiian monk seal mom and her pup, PO2, plenty of space while they are nursing and bonding at Kaimana Beach in Waikiki.

They are also recommending that the public switch to another beach to swim, snorkel, surf or paddle for the next month or so for their own safety.

“Like all mothers, monk seals are very protective of their pups,” said David Schofield, NOAA Fisheries Regional Marine Mammal Response Coordinator in a news release. “While they are resting on the beach, they look docile, but once they go into the water they can move very, very fast, like lightning speed. If a mother seal detects any threat to her pup, she is likely to attack and that is a major concern for us.”

The unexpected birth of a monk seal pup for a second time at Kaimana Beach on April 26 has generated plenty of excitement, and a fan following, with numerous photos of the pair shared on social media.

Kaiwi, who previously gave birth to three other pups along the Kaiwi shoreline, gave birth to a male pup on April 26 at Kaimana Beach, a place she also frequents.

Generally, monk seal moms take six to eight weeks to fatten up their pups before weaning them and leaving them to fend for themselves, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration experts.

Meanwhile, 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.

Most of the public has been compliant, according to Kristina Dauterman, dispatch and reporting manager for Hawaii Marine Animal Response. There are regular photographers that remain respectfully behind the barriers with long zoom lens.

Volunteers and staff from HMAR, a nonprofit, set up the perimeter for Kaiwi and her pup, and actively spend time at Kaimana Beach, monitoring the endangered seals and educating the public about them.

Just last week, however, there was a close call when two unleashed dogs approached Kaiwi and her pup while they were on the shoreline.

Kaiwi barked a warning, scaring the dogs off, and fortunately, said Dauterman, there was no contact, and she and her pup were fine, as well as the two canines. But the public should be aware that dogs are not allowed at Kaimana Beach, and should be kept away for both the seals’ and dogs’ safety.

Elsewhere, dogs on beaches should remain leashed to avoid these kinds of encounters with seals.

The monk seal pup is gaining weight, she said, and exploring the area more. That means that the perimeter may have to shift from one spot to another.

“We would also appreciate it if people would allow the seals to haul out of the water when they are moving around,” she said. “It is important that the pup can come out wherever and whenever he needs to, to rest and nurse.”

State officials cited a past incident from 2009 to remind the public how dangerous a mother monk seal can be.

That year, a young woman from Washington state was attacked upon encountering a mother seal and her pup while snorkeling 25 to 50 yards offshore of a remote beach near Poipu, Kauai.

Earl Miyamoto, a retired state wildlife manager, recalls that she suffered from a skull fracture and numerous broken bones in her hand from the seal’s bite.

“This is a wild animal; the ocean is the seal’s home,” said Miyamoto in the release. “If you are out there swimming and it doesn’t matter how strong of a swimmer you are, if that seal decides you are a threat, you have no chance of escaping.”

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