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Monk Seal Drops in at Haumana Bay Nature Preserve

Early morning visitors to the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve in East Oahu were delighted to see a Hawaiian monk seal resting on the beach.  At first, it was thought the seal might be “Rocky,” the female who pupped a seal on Kaimana Beach over the summer, prompting worldwide media attention for mom and her precocious pup.  Since Rocky has never been tagged, volunteers and staff from Hawai’i Marine Animal Response (HMAR) now say they can’t be sure of this seals identity.

DLNR Photo

Seals “haul-out” at Hanauma Bay regularly, but typically up onto the rocky tidal shelves on either side of the popular snorkeling destination. Swimmers report the seal was swimming parallel to the beach prior to it hauling out on the sand on the left side of the beach at about 6:50 a.m.  DLNR Chair Suzanne Case and DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources Administrator Dr. Bruce Anderson happened to be at the bay for a tour and helped set up cones around the resting seal to keep curious people and photographers back.  HMAR staff and volunteers arrived a little later and set up caution signs.  Shortly after nine the seal went back into the water and was last seen swimming back toward the open ocean.

DLNR Photo

Its visit this morning again highlights the safe viewing recommendations from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), DLNR, HMAR and other partners. Basically, people are asked to keep a safe distance from seals resting or sleeping on the beach.  Harassing endangered Hawaiian monk seals in any way violates both federal and state marine mammal protection laws.

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.

Latest Monk Seal Death Increases Concern of Fishery Impacts

First Monk Seal Death of 2013 Could Have Been Prevented with Earlier Reporting

The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) this morning reported that a juvenile monk seal flown by the U.S. Coast Guard from Hawai‘i Island to O‘ahu last Friday for medical treatment has died. A necropsy conducted by NOAA Fisheries revealed that the young male seal, known by his ID tags as RK68, suffered fractured ribs earlier in life, but ingestion of a fishing hook more recently is believed to be the cause of death.

Monk Seal Hook

Results of the necropsy reveal that the seal may have been hooked for several weeks or months. Officials believe had they received a detailed report of the hooking incident when it occurred, the chances of a life-saving response could have been much greater.

“Early reporting of a monk seal hooking can possibly mean the difference between life and death for one of these critically endangered animals,” said DLNR Chairperson William J. Aila, Jr. “We rely on the community to be active and mindful stewards of our oceans. Had someone come forward, even anonymously, to report this hooking when it occurred, we may have been able to save his life.”

NOAA Permit 932-1905 K68 @ WAq 02-01-2013-1

NOAA Permit 932-1905 K68 @ WAq 02-01-2013-1

This was the first monk seal death of 2013 and the first from Hawai‘i Island according to available data. Hawai‘i Island Mayor Billy Kenoi has promised increased support from the County.

“We are sad to learn that Hawai‘i Island has had its first monk seal death resulting from a hooking,” Mayor Kenoi said. “We will be encouraging everyone to report any injured or distressed seals to DLNR, and the County will be adding more informational materials in all our parks to help alert residents and visitors to this situation.”

NOAA-Permit-932-1905-K68-@-WAq-02-01-2013-2

NOAA-Permit-932-1905-K68-@-WAq-02-01-2013-2

“Many people today use the term ‘kuleana,’ but we all must remember that kuleana is not just about our rights, it is also about our responsibilities. Our community has a responsibility to help manage and care for Hawaiian monk seals,” Aila added. “Hooking a monk seal is often preventable, but we know sometimes things happen beyond a fisherman’s control. However, reporting is almost always within our control, and when someone observes a hooking and doesn’t call it in, it means an unfortunate incident can go from bad to worse, and become fatal for the seal. We have an opportunity at this time to find solutions that will work for both the seals and the fishermen.”one of which resulted in deaths. There were 15 hookings reported in 2012, resulting in three deaths. This incident marks the first seal death of 2013. Another seal was reported with a hook in its tongue Monday (Feb. 4) afternoon on Kaua‘i. DLNR and NOAA Fisheries considers these numbers concerning.

“It is certainly discouraging to see the number of hookings continue to increase, but it is alarming when monk seals lives are needlessly put at greater risk because people fail to report hookings as they occur,” noted Charles Littnan, Lead Scientist with NOAA’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Program. “We remain strongly committed to studying monk seal behavior so we can find means of mitigating these interactions, but we depend on community members to provide us information on interactions. The more we receive public reportings of hookings and other interactions, the quicker we will be able develop solutions for mitigating these situations.”

The toll-free, 24/7 reporting hotline for all fishery interactions and other marine mammal incidents is

1-888-256-9840. DLNR and NOAA Fisheries urge all fishermen and other ocean users to write down this hotline and/or save it in their mobile phones for timely use whenever a seal is hooked or entangled.