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Hawaii Tourism Authority urges beachgoers to avoid Kaimana Beach while monk seal nurses

  • GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                The three-week-old Hawaiian monk seal PO8, born to Rocky at Kaimana Beach in July, took a swim with its mother, Aug. 1, at Kaimana Beach in Waikiki.

    GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARADVERTISER.COM

    The three-week-old Hawaiian monk seal PO8, born to Rocky at Kaimana Beach in July, took a swim with its mother, Aug. 1, at Kaimana Beach in Waikiki.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority today sent out an email blast advising visitors to temporarily avoid Kaimana Beach in Waikiki as a mother monk seal nurses her pup in the area.

That Hawaiian monk seal, identified by wildlife officials as RH58, is known as Rocky to those in the public who see her often.

Rocky gave birth to her 14th pup, PO8, at Kaimana Beach on July 9, and the pair are expected to remain in the area through at least mid-August, till the pup weans, generally.

HTA explained that on July 24, “a nearby swimmer caught the seals’ attention and the seal mother pursued the swimmer — a perceived threat to her pup — and the encounter resulted in the swimmer sustaining injuries.

On Thursday, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources began enforcing a 50-yard, or 150-foot, cordon around the two endangered monk seals after videos surfaced of beachgoers crowding around them.

“For your safety and theirs, stay alert and keep a respectful distance from these endangered animals, and other protected marine wildlife in Hawaii,” said HTA in its email blast. “If you’re in an area where mother seals with pups have been spotted, please stay at least 150 feet away from the marine animals on land and in the water. This guidance will protect yourself and our endangered marine animals, which are protected under state and federal laws.”

HTA continued with, “We encourage the public to visit one of the many other amazing Oahu beaches during this time to avoid interactions with the monk seal and her pup and ask for the industry’s kokua in spreading the word.”

Wildlife experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recommend giving monk seal mom-and-pup pairs 150 feet of distance both on land and in the water because mothers can be very territorial and protective of their pups.

Even better, NOAA said, is to choose another beach to avoid mother seal interactions.

DLNR said on Saturday that no citations or arrests were made three days into the around-the-clock enforcement of the cordon at Kaimana Beach.

With only about 1,500 Hawaiian monk seals remaining in the wild, the pinnipeds are one of the most endangered seal species in the world. They are protected under state law as well as the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Under state law, harassing or harming a Hawaiian monk seal is considered a Class C felony, punishable by imprisonment and fines.

Visitors in recent years have been fined for slapping or touching monk seals resting on shorelines after videos of their actions were posted to social media.

DLNR said moving past the 150-foot boundary, however, would be considered a “frustration of a government operation,” and classified as a misdemeanor.

When pup PO8 weans, officials will likely relocate him to a more remote location, away from humans, as they did with two earlier monk seal pups born at Kaimana Beach.

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