Scoping out seals

POIPU — Sixteen of the estimated 45 Hawaiian monk seals that hang around Kauai were soaking in some sun on the island’s beaches Saturday, as volunteers completed the latest round of the monk seal count.

“This isn’t a scientific survey, but it’s a fun number to throw out there,” said Jaime Thomton, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It’s more of an outreach event and it’s also a good way to get volunteers more familiar with out-of-the-way areas.”

Saturday’s count was one of two done annually throughout the main Hawaiian Islands. Volunteers spotted 50 seals in total — 16 on both Oahu and Kauai, 14 on Molokai, and two seals on both the Big Island and on Maui.

“That doesn’t account for a lot of them, though, some haul out after noon,” Thomton said.

He said the survey methods aren’t in line with traditional ways to create scientific population estimates, either.

“But, we get our volunteers out there all over the place between 9 a.m. and noon and we have them call in what they see,” Thomton said. “It’s great practice for if we ever had something like a pathogen outbreak where we’d have to do some emergency response work.”

There weren’t any more babies found during Saturday’s count, but Thomton said he has been able to check on Kauai’s baby seal recently and it’s doing well.

That seal was born at the beginning of May to the mamma monk seal, RK30. That seal had been attacked by an Eleele man in late April.

Thomton said her baby is healthy and swimming around, but his team didn’t get a good enough view to distinguish the sex of the seal pup.

“The mom is being really protective, but the pup is strong and healthy and it was acting independent,” he said. “It was about two weeks old when we were out there.”

He and his team will head back out to the remote area where RK30 is keeping her pup in about four weeks, once she’s weaned the baby. That’s when they’ll tag the pup for tracking purposes.

“We’re watching another female that’s due any day now, though,” Thomton said.

Anyone interested in helping with monitoring monk seals on Kauai can call the monk seal hotline at 651-7668.

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