Hawaiian monk seal pupping season is well underway — with some sad and happy news.
Three of the newborn pups of the critically endangered species did not survive earlier this year, according to wildlife officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Officials said three pups — identified as RQQ1, RQQ2, and RQQ3 — were found deceased on Oahu in February and March.
“In situations where several deceased pups are found within a relatively short time frame, we work to determine whether there is any connection between the deaths,” said NOAA Fisheries in a blog post. “Fortunately, we have not found a link between their deaths, or any indication of a larger issue such as a disease outbreak. Instead, our findings indicate the pups most likely died from coincidental birthing complications.”
Two of the pups, RQQ1 and RQQ2, were born to first-time monk seal moms Kaimana (the pup renowned after her birth at Kaimana Beach Park in Waikiki) and Lei Ola, respectively. The mother of the third pup could not be confirmed.
Two Hawaiian monk seal pups, however, were born on Oahu last week, and appear to be healthy and doing well.
NOAA confirmed that monk seal RH92 gave birth to her first pup, PO4, on Oahu’s North Shore. NOAA’s nonprofit partner, Hawaii Marine Animal Response, first observed the pair on April 13.
Also, veteran monk seal mom, RN58, or Luana, gave birth to pup PO5 on Oahu’s North Shore on April 14, as witnessed by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.
DLNR’s Lesley Macpherson recorded the joy of the monk seal birth on camera. She and two volunteers witnessed the birth of the pup at 2:30 p.m. on April 14 after observing Luana for the past few weeks.
Pup PO5 moved quickly on the beach once it was born, she said, scaled a small rock with some initial difficulty, and had its first water experience by the next day.
Both seal moms are survivors of fish hookings requiring NOAA’s intervention.
RH92 survived an off-leash dog attack on Kauai as a pup herself in 2016, which resulted in puncture wounds, but recovered, thanks to treatment by veterinarians. Then in 2019, she swallowed a fishing hook, which NOAA and partners removed from her stomach.
Luana also ingested a fishing hook as a yearling in 2014, which was removed through a successful surgery.
NOAA Fisheries reminds the public that monk seal mothers and pups should be given plenty of space — at least 150 feet of distance — while resting or nursing along shorelines.
NOAA said this is to avoid disturbing them, and ensuring the mother remains with her pup. Monk seals typically nurse their pups for five to seven weeks.
“The public should also be aware that mother seals can be very protective of their young and are more likely to exhibit territorial behavior with a pup,” NOAA said.
Dogs on beaches should also remain leashed to prevent incidents with the seals, which are a critically endangered species protected by state and federal laws.
Although monk seal pups can be born any time of the year, most births occur during spring and summer. Officials will continue monitoring the moms and pups for the next few weeks.
Monk seal sightings should be reported to the NOAA marine wildlife hotline at 888-256-9840.