Seal pup born premature

PO‘IPU — The body of a premature-born Hawaiian monk seal is being prepared for shipment to O‘ahu.

The pup was born alive on a south Kaua‘i beach Sunday and died a short while later.

“I’ve got it on ice in preparation for shipment to Dr. Robert Braun who does contract work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,” said Dr. Mimi Olry, Kaua‘i’s Marine Conservation Coordinator.

“We want to know why it died, why it was premature. A full necropsy will be performed on the pup,” Olry said.

The young pup was born some time between Saturday night and Sunday morning when it was reported by a beachgoer at about 7 a.m.

“It was moving about, but it’s small,” said Millie Johnston of the Kaua‘i Monk Seal Watch.

“The pup weighed about 15 pounds,” Olry said. “A normal pup would weigh between 30 and 35 pounds at birth. This was a small pup.”

Olry said the pup’s mom, identified as K04, or more affectionately as “Po‘ipu Mom,” did not give birth last year.

“She was at Glass Beach almost all day Saturday,” Olry said. “And she didn’t look pregnant. If they’re about to give birth, they get really big — almost obese.”

“The pup was moving, but weak,” Olry said. “I’ve contacted NOAA on O‘ahu, and they might have to come over to help monitor the pup. It’s definitely underweight, and I’m worried.”

Throughout the morning, a steady stream of beach-goers, primarily visitors to the island, stopped by the orange barrier and chatted with volunteers from the Kaua‘i Monk Seal Watch program and Olry.

Cameras clicked silently. Many children needed the help of their parents to understand what was taking place.

Olry worked with the Kaua‘i Monk Seal Watch volunteers as well as water safety officers from the Kaua‘i Ocean Safety Bureau in establishing a perimeter for the mother and pup that lazed in the morning sun.

Occasionally, the pup would roll about, waving its flippers as more cameras snapped.

As the hours wore on, it was obvious the pup was weak, although its movements were strong.

Johnston explained that pups would need to be strong enough to climb atop their mothers’ belly to nurse, and this one just didn’t seem to have the strength to do it.

Not long after, Olry had ascertained the birth was premature. That was determined after discussions with the NOAA O‘ahu office personnel via cell phone.

“She’s an excellent mother,” Johnston said of Po‘ipu Mom. “If the pup has any chance of survival, it couldn’t have picked a better mom.”

Johnston noted that Po‘ipu Mom earned her name after giving birth at the popular beach park in years past. She has had one birth which was aborted, Johnston said.

The pup expired at 11:05 a.m., Johnston said.

One of the tests that will be done during the necropsy will be for toxoplasmosis, Olry said.

Dogs and cats are carriers for this disease, Olry explained. “They may not be affected by it, but they are carriers, which is one of the reasons pregnant ladies should not clean cat litter boxes. This is because they could breathe in the airborne spores.”

Olry said the recent bout of heavy rains washed a lot of fecal matter into the ocean, and could possibly be contracted by marine life.

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) and dfujimoto@kauaipubco.com.

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