Monk Seal Mother May Become More Aggressive
State officials have issued a reminder and advisory to the public about the behavior of an adult Hawaiian monk seal in Waikīkī, saying the animal may become more aggressive as she continues to nurse her offspring. RH58, also known as Rocky, gave birth to a pup late last month, and has been rearing the animal at O‘ahu’s Kaimana beach where a safety corridor has been set up to protect the pair.
Today, officials with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources have 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 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 Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response 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.”
Gelman 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.
Kristen Kelly, Program Assistant with the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources Marine Wildlife Program said, “Kamaʻāina 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 Oʻahu’s other beautiful beaches.”
In 2009 a woman on Kauaʻi 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.