24-hour watch set up for baby monk seal

PO’IPU — Volunteers are being sought to help provide a 24-hour watch for an

endangered Hawaiian monk seal pup that was born on Po’ipu Beach early yesterday

morning.

The watch is not just for the protection of the pup, the second

monk seal born this year, said Don Heacock, state aquatic

biologist.

Beachgoers are also at risk from the seal’s 700-pound mother who

is nursing the pup near the keiki pool at the beach.

Heacock said signup

sheets for watch volunteers are located at one of the beach’s pavilions.

Volunteers can also call 335-0941.

The watch is a multi-agency effort

between the Kaua’i Monk Seal Watch Program, the state Department of Land and

Natural Resources, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Humpback

Sanctuary Program.

The Hawaiian monk seal is very sensitive to human

presence, said Heacock.

Undisturbed rest for the monk seals on land is

critical. The seal pup needs every ounce of its mother’s milk to survive, and

disturbances may cause the mother to flee the area, officials said.

Also,

mothers with pups can be extremely aggressive in defense of their young and

will chase off people and dogs that get too close. Heacock said dogs are to be

kept out of the area, and people need to act responsibly when viewing the

wildlife.

The weaning of the pup could take up to six weeks. In order to

ensure the survival of the pup and its mother, National Marine Fisheries

Service is asking for cooperation in minimizing the disturbance to these

animals. The monk seal is the most endangered marine mammal species in the

world, according to the fisheries service. Heacock said the monk seal

population on Kaua’i has gone from one in 1986 to 13 this year.

It is

against state and federal laws to harrass monk seals.

Here are some

guidelines from officials for properly viewing the animals:

* Observe from

at least 150 feet away.

* Keep noises to a minimum.

* Limit viewing

time to 30 minutes.

* Monk seals should not be trapped or encircled between

boats or shore.

* The seals may exhibit inquisitive behavior. Do not

attempt to approach them or play with them, or wake them when they’re

sleeping.

* Keep dogs out of the area.

* Remain out of sight.

Cooperate with officials on the scene and respect fencing and signs.

If the

monk seals exhibit one of the following behaviors, move away:

* Rapid

movement away from a disturbance and toward the water.

* Sudden awakening

from sleep.

* Female attempting to shield a pup with her body or by her

movements.

* Vocalization or “growling.”

Volunteers will be at Poipu

Beach Park to provide information about monk seals and responsible viewing

techniques.

Assistant managing editor Brandon Sprague can be

reached at 245-3681, ext. 226 or

bsprague@pulitzer.net

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