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Coast Guard helps move monk seal pup from Midway Atoll to Kona

  • COURTESY SOPHIE WHORISKEY / THE MARINE MAMMAL CENTER / NOAA
                                Hawaiian monk seal PP08 is pictured in a transport carrier aboard a Coast Guard C-130 aircraft.

    COURTESY SOPHIE WHORISKEY / THE MARINE MAMMAL CENTER / NOAA

    Hawaiian monk seal PP08 is pictured in a transport carrier aboard a Coast Guard C-130 aircraft.

Wildlife officials rescued a pre-weaned monk seal pup from the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and transported it to Hawaii island for care and rehabilitation, according to the Marine Mammal Center.

The prematurely weaned female, PP08, got an airlift via the U.S. Coast Guard from Midway to Ke Kai Ola, the center’s hospital for endangered seals in Kona. The center said the rescue was possible thanks to its partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Coast Guard.

PP08 was born in mid-April at Midway at Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument and weaned from her mother too soon, according to USFWS biologists monitoring her at Midway. She was then observed as being underweight.

“Separated from her mom too soon, this young pup had nearly zero chance of survival without intervention,” said Dr. Sophie Whoriskey, TMMC’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Veterinarian in a news release. “Each individual matters, especially for an endangered species, and we are grateful to our partners for their support in achieving our mission, and ensuring this young pup has a second chance at life.”

NOAA’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program decided it was necessary to rescue PP08 and take her to Ke Kai Ola until she could be released back to the wild at a healthy weight.

Dr. Michelle Barbieri, NOAA’s lead scientist, said PP08’s girth was measured at just 78 centimeters, and that pups who wean at less than 90-centimeters girth “have essentially no chance of surviving to the next year.

“Thanks to the combined efforts that went into detecting, rescuing, and transporting PP08 to definitive care at The Marine Mammal Center’s hospital, especially before she became too depleted or sick,” she said, “she has a very good chance at being fully rehabilitated and released back in Papahanaumokuakea, where she’ll have a second chance at growing to adulthood.”

Monk seal pup PP08’s transport took place on June 15, and she arrived at Ke Kai Ola alert and active, but malnourished.

“PP08 has been feisty and extremely vocal since her arrival, which is a really positive sign for a young pup,” said Whoriskey.

She is currently being fed a mix of electrolytes and ground herring to help boost her weight, according to Whoriskey, and will eventually be introduced to whole herring and live fish.

Since 2014, the center has rehabilitated and released 35 monk seals, mostly from Papahanaumokuakea, as part of its partnership with NOAA.

On Oahu earlier this month, NOAA officials also moved Loli‘i, the monk seal pup recently weaned from his mom, Kaiwi, at the well-frequented Kaimana Beach in Waikiki, to a more remote location so he would have less interaction with humans.

Loli‘i has been outfitted with a satellite transmitter — glued to the fur on his back — so researchers can track his movements and monitor his behavior.

The nonprofit Hawaii Marine Animal Response recently provided an update on Loli‘i, and said he is exhibiting “all of the curious and exploratory behaviors of a seal his age as he learns all about his new environment.”

Wildlife officials remind the public to keep a safe distance from monk seals. Monk seal sightings and injured marine mammals can be reported to NOAA’s hotline at (888) 256-9840.

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