It’s that season again in Hawaii: Time for endangered Hawaiian monk seals to have their pups.
Now a celebrity of sorts and her adorable pup have been spotted lounging around Hawaii’s popular Kaimana Beach.
“It’s official!” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries wrote in a statement. “Hawaiian monk seal RK96, also known as Kaiwi, gave birth to a pup at Kaimana Beach in Waikīkī, O‘ahu, on April 14.”
This is the fifth pup for Kaiwi, or RK96 as she is known to state and federal biologists. Three of her pups were birthed on the Kaiwi coastline of Oʻahu, where she was born as well. Kaiwi and RP96, or Lōliʻi, were birthed on Kaimana Beach. Lōliʻi was born in 2021.
Importantly, authorities have already taken steps to protect Kaiwi and her pup.
“A temporary fence has been erected at Kaimana Beach to promote public safety and seal protection during the nursing period,” the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources wrote in a Facebook post. “People are encouraged to use other areas for beach and ocean recreation.”
What’s more, when the seals are in the water, law enforcement officers from Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) will ride personal watercraft to keep people outside a 50-yard zone to protect mother and pup, according to the Associated Press. Law enforcement officers will also be on the beach 24/7 to protect the seals, said Jason Redulla, chief of the division of conservation and resources enforcement, according to CNN.
“It’s better for you at this point to find another beach to recreate at,” Redulla explained.
NOAA Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO) reiterated that point.
“Please use another beach location for swimming and recreation,” NOAA PIRO wrote on Twitter.
Kaiwi and her pup are expected to remain together on Kaimana Beach for 5–7 weeks while the pup nurses.
Hawaiian Monk Seals
Hawaiian monk seals are one of the most endangered seal species in the world, NOAA Fisheries explains. The population is estimated to be around 1,570 seals in total, with about 1,200 seals on the northwestern Hawaiian Islands and 400 seals living on the main Hawaiian Islands.
Hawaiian monk seals — which are protected under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and Hawaii state law — can live to ages of 30 years or more. Adult seals, which are 6–7 feet long, weigh between 400 and 600 pounds.
The seals are also what’s known as “generalist” feeders, which means they eat marine life that’s available. So, while they are known to eat common fish, squid, octopus, and eel, they also eat a variety of crustaceans, including crab, shrimp, and lobster.
Spring and summer are the monk seals’ pup season, so NOAA Fisheries asks everyone to give Hawaiian monk seal mothers and pups plenty of space — at least 150 feet — and avoid disturbing them. That way mother seals will remain with their pups and ensure pups get the nutrition they need.
Why The Warnings Are So Strict
If you’re wondering why the warnings about the seals on Kaimana Beach sound so serious, it’s partly because the seals are endangered. Then again, monk seal mothers are extremely protective of their pups during this nursing period.
Authorities are also hoping to prevent an encounter like the one that happened last year.
In the incident, despite warnings from NOAA and Hawaii Marine Animal Response, as well as warning signs and protective fencing in place at Kaimana, a 60-year-old tourist from California went swimming around 150 feet from Kaimana Beach.
The problem was that a Hawaiian monk seal known to Hawaii’s DLNR and other marine biologists as “Rocky” was also in the area with her pup. Sensing a perceived threat to her pup, Rocky pursued the woman. During the ensuing encounter, the woman received lacerations to her face, back, and arm.
“We strongly recommend using any of the other numerous nearby beach locations for swimming and other ocean recreation activities,” NOAA Fisheries cautions. “Mother seals can be very protective of their young and may bite if they view you as a threat.”
If you are in an area where a mother seal and pup are present, here’s how NOAA Fisheries recommends keeping both the seals and yourself safe.
First, always keep at least 150 feet of space between you and the seals. That rule applies both on land and in the water. Secondly, always stay behind protective fencing or warning signs. Finally, always be sure to follow instructions from officials and personnel on site.
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