Government officials have decided to relocate an endangered Hawaiian monk seal pup from a popular beach in Waikiki to a remote, undisclosed shoreline on Oahu amid safety concerns for the animal and the public.
The move will happen as soon as the 1-month-old seal, Kaimana, has weaned from her mother, Rocky, which is expected any day now.
Federal, state and county officials announced the joint decision Tuesday at Kaimana Beach, where the mother has been raising her pup ever since she was born there in late June.
The pair have been growing in popularity, with people watching in person and online via Civil Beat’s live-streaming video. But officials are concerned the impressionable pup could learn “undesirable behaviors” from too much time interacting with humans. They have chosen to move Kaimana after Rocky departs.
“We weighed two options with utmost consideration for safety; both for the seal and the public,” he said. “One option was to simply leave the weaned seal at Kaimana Beach. The other, our chosen option, is to move the seal to a more secluded location, where she can grow up naturally in the company of other wild monk seals, without a high level of human interaction.”
Kaimana swam over to the dilapidated natatorium adjacent to the beach on at least three occasions. NOAA staff and volunteers rescued her July 28 and carried her back to her mother after a 45-minute separation.
On Thursday, both seals swam into the natatorium, which has steel rebar and other unseen hazards, officials said.
“This large and expert team of people from all levels of government carefully considered options for this seal after it weans from its mother,” said state Department of Land and Natural Resources Chair Suzanne Case. “The determination was made that the risks of leaving this now famous seal in place are too great.”
Case took a moment to remind fishers to use barbless hooks and not leave lay gill nets unattended for more than 30 minutes — two known hazards to the seals. The nets have caused the drownings of four seals in recent years, officials said.
The latest population estimate shows the number of Hawaiian monk seals — one of the world’s most endangered animals — is on a slow but steady increase, rising 3 percent annually for the past three years.
There are now 1,400 seals, which is about one-third of historic levels. But roughly 1,100 of the seals live in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, more than 1,000 miles from Honolulu.
Jim Howe of the Honolulu Emergency Services Department said the seal should be allowed to grow up a wild animal. He added that closing Kaimana Beach, a popular spot for locals and visitors alike, was not an option.
“We don’t have a way, or really the will, to tell people they can’t go in the water here,” he said.
Kaimana and Rocky delighted a crowd of spectators at the beach after the press conference when they started swimming back to the shore during a traditional Native Hawaiian blessing.
Area descendant Trisha Kehaulani Watson expressed gratitude for Rocky giving birth to Kaimana, its 10th pup, in that ahupuaa, a Hawaiian land division.
“She has been a true gift from our Akua to the residents and visitors of Waikiki who had the opportunity to learn from her, and we are honored she will now carry the name of the place where she was born,” she said in a press release.
“As Hawaiians managed natural resources in a custom that ensured sustainablity, we agree with NOAA, DLNR and other officials that the best management decision for ‘Kaimana’ and the 60,000 daily resource users is to relocate her as soon as she has weaned from her mother,” she said.
DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement Chief Robert Farrell said in the release that the decision to relocate was not made lightly, as there are human-caused dangers elsewhere too.
He asked for the public’s help in reporting dangers to seals, turtles and other marine life via DLNR’s new phone app, DLNRtip, or by calling the DOCARE hotline at 643-DLNR.
Watch the video of the press conference below.
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