The night of Monday, November 11th, a KDL staffer got a frantic call. "There is monk seal at Keokea and she doesn't look good. I think she is sick. What do we do?" Turns out she wasn't sick: She was in labor! A healthy wrinkled black pup was born to the seal, a young female herself only born in 2008.
Over the past days, volunteers have gathered to protect the mum and pup, visitors have flocked to take photos, and the Kohala community has come together to welcome the new addition to this gravely endangered species.
Some Frequently Asked Questions:
What is a "Monk Seal"? And why should we care?
The Hawaiian Monk Seal is an endemic species to Hawaii, meaning it is native to this area and not found elsewhere in the world. It is an endangered species protected by Hawaii State law, the Marine Mammal protection act, and the Endangered species act. There are only about 1000 seals in all of Hawaii (Northwestern chain and main islands) and the population declines by about 4% a year.
For more about Monk Seals, check out the NOAA Monk Seal Homepage.
What should I do if I see a Monk Seal?
Please observe from a distance. Report the sighting to NOAA, as they can use all the data they can get. The NOAA site to report a seal is here: Report a Monk Seal Sighting. Please remember that the ropes and rules are there to protect both you and the seal. Seals can be aggressive or defensive towards you and your pets, and interactions with humans can change their behavior and threaten their mating habits and survival. If you are in the water, please exit the area and try not to interact.
I want to surf at Keokea. How long will the pup be there?
It is estimated that the pup will be there with it's mom for about 7 weeks. During that time, the mama seal won't leave the pup to feed, so she will gradually lose weight. She is a small and young mother to begin with, so there is some concern for her safety. Meanwhile, the nursing pup will get fatter and fatter, oftentimes out-growing it's mom. The pup will lose it's wrinkly appearance as it plumps, then gradually will change out it's black fur for the silvery brown. Surfers and users of the park have been entering the water to the left, over the rocks, which is more dangerous, but possible. The park is roped off near the seal, and closes entirely at 7pm.
What are some of the threats against Monk Seals?
Monk Seals as a population are threatened by habitat and food source loss, entanglement, human interaction, along with some horrific recent killings by humans by gunshot wounds. Less than 1 pup in 5 makes it to reproductive age. Keokea pup has already been threatened by an aggressive male attempting to mate with its mother. More about threats to the seal can be found here: Population and Threats to Monk Seals.
I heard that Monk Seals eat their weight daily in the same fish fisherman are going after. Is this true?
No. The seals only eat about 5% of their body weight a day, and they forage for many types of fish. There are only about 150 seals in the main Hawaiian islands, so their impact to competitive fish species is minimal. More about myths here: Myths and Facts about Monk Seals.
Can I see a Monk Seal underwater if I dive with Kohala Divers?
Haha. We wish. There are very very few Monk Seals on the Big Island to begin with. This is why we are so excited by the new pup in Kohala. Underwater sightings are very rare: In the past 7 years we have seen them maybe three times. Following the laws and NOAA's rules, we can not interact with them, and must end the dive, exit the water, and move to another site. We must all do our part to limit the human interactions that threaten the seals. But we can promise you all sorts of other awesome sights if you come diving with us!
Finally, if you want to be more involved, NOAA has a site for What You Can Do to Help the Hawaiian Monk Seal.
Saturday, November 2, 2013
On October 29th, our divers aboard the Kohala Diver saw our first Humpback whale of the year! We then saw him (presumably) two more days. This video was taken aboard the Kohala Diver on November first.
Here is a link to a West Hawaii Today Article about the recent sightings.