Feds issue monk seal warning

HONOLULU — Since an endangered Hawaiian monk seal gave birth to a pup on Oahu’s Kaimana Beach late last month, there haven’t been any reports of people going beyond the established safety corridor.

As RH58, known as Rocky, continues to nurse her offspring, marine resource experts predict she may become more aggressive. They renewed their encouragement for people to keep a safe distance and abide by signs and ropes that keep both humans and the seals safe.

“Hawaiian monk seals are for the most part docile, but as with any other wild animals, females protecting their young can be highly aggressive,” said David Schofield, the regional Marine Mammal Response Program coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

In 2009, a woman on Kauai was badly injured by a protective mother seal after she went into the water despite being warned. The woman required reconstructive surgery to her face and forearm.

“Public safety is the lifeguard’s No. 1 priority. Ocean safety (officers) will continue to warn beachgoers of the hazards of entering the ocean in close proximity to a wild animal,” said Kurt Lager, the acting chief of the City and County of Honolulu Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services.

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.

Volunteers from Hawaii Marine Animal Response establish safety perimeters whenever seals beach in populated areas in the main Hawaiian Islands.

“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,” said the group’s president, Jon Gelman. “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.”

He reports that occasionally people who are listening to music 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 1,000 feet of a marine mammal is prohibited under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.

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