Friday, January 17, 2014

Hawaiian Monk Seals

 Hawaiian monk seals are endemic to Hawaii, and they are one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world.  When we moved here, I didn't know if I would be able to see one in the wild.  Most Hawaiian monk seals (approximately 900) live in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, while about 150-200 are estimated to live here in the Main Hawaiian Islands.

Luckily, I happened to see an article asking for volunteers to join the Hawaiian Monk Seal Response Team Oahu (now part of the Monk Seal Foundation) last year.  I attended a training meeting, and soon after was called for my first field training--to identify a seal that was sleeping on one of our local beaches.  We do not get a lot of monk seal sightings compared to other parts of Oahu, but there is one seal who comes to our beaches fairly regularly and is known by many of the locals, nicknamed "Honey Girl."  She is the first monk seal I saw in the wild, my first field experience as a volunteer.  Since then I have seen her a few more times in our area, and I have only seen one other seal on our local beaches.  Further north there are several seals that come ashore, and occasionally I will check on them too.

Monk seal "Kaikaina" sleeping on the North Shore

Honey Girl recently had a pup, and I was able to help monitor them earlier this week.  Luckily, we live in a less-congested part of Oahu, so seals are not as likely to be disturbed by people, but since they are endangered, there are still lots of precautions that have to be taken.  One of the most important things is to protect the mother and pup, so that the pup will not become accustomed to being around people--this could lead to several problems.  Often a "Seal Protection Zone" is put up to keep people and their pets away from the seals.  Yesterday the SPZ had to be taken down, however, because of storm surges that could endanger the seals if there were ropes and fences nearby.  The pup and mother both seem to be doing very well, though, which is a big relief to all the seal volunteers and workers.  Honey Girl had recovered from life-threatening injuries the year before, and this is her first pup since her recovery.  We will continue to keep an eye on them both for a few more weeks until the pup is weaned, and then monitor them separately as often as they are seen on shore.

Sleeping monk seal mom and her pup

Monk seal pup nursing

Here is an article recently published on the Huffington Post, including a YouTube slide show of Honey Girl before, during, and after the birth.  There are two other seals that made appearances at the beach during this time, both older sisters to the new pup.

Mom and pup sleeping

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