Agencies Renew Monk Seal Safety Warnings – Mother Seal at Kaimana Beach May Become More Aggressive

Since an endangered Hawaiian monk seal gave birth to a pup on O‘ahu’s Kaimana beach late last month, there haven’t been any reports of people going beyond the established safety corridor. As RH58, known as Rocky, continues to nurse her offspring, marine resource experts predict she may become more aggressive. Today they renewed their encouragement for people to keep a safe distance and abide by signs and ropes that keep both humans and the seals safe.

David Schofield, the Regional Marine Mammal Response Program Coordinator, for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service, said, ”Hawaiian monk seals are for the most part docile, but as with any other wild animals, females protecting their young can be highly aggressive.”

Volunteers from Hawaii Marine Animal Response (HMAR) establish safety perimeters whenever seals beach in populated areas in the main Hawaiian Islands. The group’s president Jon Gelman explained, “We are privileged to have the opportunity to see one of the world’s rarest marine mammals, one that only lives in Hawaiian waters, right here in Waikiki. But that privilege comes with the responsibility to view the animals from a safe distance, and to give this seal mom and pup the opportunity to peacefully coexist with us on our beach and in our waters.” He reports that occasionally people walk by who are listening to music and accidentally walk by the signs, but once volunteers get their attention they avoid the closure area. However there has been some drone activity in the area and flying an aircraft within 1000 feet of a marine mammal is prohibited under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.

This is the second mom and pup pair to show up on an O‘ahu beach in the last month and a half. Just prior to Memorial Day a mother and her pup beached on Moku Nui (Mokulua North) islet, a popular kayaking destination on the windward coast. DLNR working in partnership with NOAA produced a monk seal safety video that is required viewing for people renting kayaks from Kailua-area shops. Shop owners say the video has been very helpful and informative in providing visitors with a frame of reference, calling it an awesome tool. DLNR is now producing a location-generic monk seal information video that will be available free of charge to lodging properties, tour companies, and any others who work directly with visitors. It’s believed the video has helped prevent any human-seal encounters at Moku Nui.

All of the agencies charged with protecting the seals and people are determined to keep animals and humans safe. Kristen Kelly, Program Assistant with the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) Marine Wildlife Program said, “Kama’aina and visitors are fortunate to have this opportunity to view a Hawaiian monk seal mom and pup. But these are wild and potentially dangerous animals, especially protective moms like Rocky. Please put the safety of yourself and your family first. If you want to swim, we encourage you to take this opportunity to explore many of Oahu’s other beautiful beaches.”

In 2009 a woman on Kaua‘i was badly injured by a protective mother seal after she went into the water despite being warned. She required reconstructive surgery to her face and forearm. Kurt Lager the Acting Chief of the City & County of Honolulu Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services said, “Public safety is the lifeguard’s number one priority. Ocean Safety will continue to warn beachgoers of the hazards of entering the ocean in close proximity to a wild animal.”

Experts predict Rocky and her pup will be at Kaimana for the next eight weeks or so until the pup weans. This also gives the pup time to acclimate once its mother leaves.

Moku Nui Monk Seals from Hawaii DLNR on Vimeo.

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