SO LONG, SEAL PUP

PO’IPU — The South Shore saga of the Hawaiian monk seal mother and her pup sank slowly with the sunset Sunday.

“He’s weaned,” said Dr. Mimi Olry, the Kaua’i marine safety coordinator, Monday, from her observation tent located on the Marriott’s Waiohai Beach Club side of the beach.

According to volunteer seal-watchers, the mother seal left the pup about 10:15 a.m. Sunday, the volunteers anxious for signs of her returning.

But, she never returned.

Gretchen Johnson and Olry had scheduled a mahalo get-together for volunteers on Sunday evening, and as the first of the four-dozen volunteers began showing up at 5:15 p.m., the mother seal returned.

This was occasion for rejoicing among the volunteers, who were trying to cope with their personal separation anxieties.

“It was the perfect last sunset,” Olry said, describing the scene of a glorious Hawaiian sunset with a catamaran under full sail in the foreground as the mother and pup reunited, probably for the last time.

“It was like she came back to tell us ‘thank you for watching over us,'” a volunteer said with a melancholic note in her voice.

Olry explained that it was normal for the mother to come back and check on how the pup was doing following the weaning process.

“They went up to the naupaka, together, one last time,” another volunteer said.

Some time between 2:30 a.m. and daybreak Monday, mom left, this time for good. That account was given by volunteer Bruce Parcil, who headed up the volunteer-training program and who talked with several of the guests staying at nearby resorts, who reported seeing the pair together as late as 2:30 a.m. Monday.

“It (the separation anxiety) was harder on mom than the pup,” Olry said. “She kept looking back and barking. The pup just lazed on the sand at water’s edge.”

Over the course of the five weeks since the birth of the seal pup, hundreds of people have been touched, as Parcil noted the number of e-mails he has received inquiring about the development of the pup. Parcil noted that the inquiries come from all parts of the United States, and as far away as England.

Olry concurred, noting that she, too, has been receiving notes of inquiries from visitors who were here during the five-week period since the pup’s birth.

Today, Tuesday, Oct. 4, is the five-week anniversary of the pup’s birth, and now that the weaning is complete, Olry said the pup will be translocated to an undisclosed location, likely today.

This will return the beach to human beach-goers, and the seal will be able to grow up in its natural state, away from humans.

Olry said the location where the seal will be moved to is a good one for the seal. A previous seal born at Po’ipu Beach Park was moved to this site, and Olry said that she’s witnessed it returning on a regular basis.

Additionally, Olry said there are other young-adult seals at this location and, recently, there have been discoveries of green-sea-turtle nests.

Olry attributed this marine-sanctuary setting to the landowner who has taken an interest in the environment, and because he has an environmentalist working for him, has erected a fence to keep marine animals, including albatrosses, safe from humans and dogs.

“He’ll have other weanlings to baby sit him,” Olry assured last-day spectators of the seal that now napped alone at the water’s edge.

Parcil noted that it was a good thing that the pup now has a silver belly and under-jaw, his natural coloration that developed from his jet-black baby fur rubbing off.

Although still black in color, the brown fur was clearly visible, and the pup appeared to have “bulked out” over the weekend.

Olry said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries department officials still have a need for volunteers, as there are occasional seal haul-outs that require monitoring, and several of the volunteers who turned out to seal-watch this pair have already indicated their willingness to extend their tenure, making use of the training they had to undergo for this watch, they said.

With the pup weaned, and the beach returning to the human beach-goers, Olry said they can now return their attention to other areas of marine and environmental conservation.

“You should come tomorrow and take a picture of the empty beach,” a volunteer joked.

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