Popular monk seal gives birth on Kauai

LIHUE — Scientists said Tuesday they still don’t know the gender of the Hawaiian monk seal pup born Monday on one of Kauai’s remote shores.

But they’re glad the mom, RH58 — known to the public as “Rocky” — returned to her traditional beach and didn’t deliver on Oahu’s busy Kaimana Beach like she did in June 2017.

Officials with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Rocky and her pup have generated a lot of attention and are working on official statements, but weren’t ready to comment on the birth before press time Tuesday.

Monday’s pup was the 11th baby that 18-year-old Rocky has had, and the 10th born on Kauai.

According to the Kauai Seal Conservation Hui, Rocky was born on a different Kauai beach in 2000 and crossed the channel to Oahu where she spends most of her time.

The first time she gave birth was in 2006, when she was six years old, and that was on a Kauai beach.

In 2014, Rocky and her pup RF58 were involved in a dog attack on Kauai and a NOAA veterinary team responded to more than 60 bite marks on the pup.

Though RF58 survived the dog attack, the young female seal was found dead in December 2014 at a beach in Anahola after being bludgeoned on the side of the head, according to the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

In 2017, Rocky made headlines again when she pupped on Waikiki Beach, which brought the attention of thousands of tourists to the endangered animal and her pup.

Shortly after she gave birth in 2017, members of DLNR and NOAA worked with the public to maintain a distance from the seal.

The pup, nicknamed Kaimana, was moved from the Waikiki area after she was weaned.

With her 10th pup in tow, Rocky is also a first time grandmother, after one of her pups — RB00 — gave birth on Lanai in January. Another of Rocky’s offspring pupped in early June as well, RK52 who was born in 2011, but the pup was stillborn.

RK52 was a first-time mom, according to officials, and trends say she has a very high chance of going on to have healthy pups in the future.

Overall, the Hawaiian monk seal population has had a 2 percent annual growth rate since 2013. In the 2017 Hawaiian Monk Seal Count announced by NOAA in March, the population is at 1,400 seals.

Around 300 of those call the main Hawaiian Islands home, while the remaining 1,100 cruise around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

In June, the Kauai team logged 36 individual monk seals on Kauai, with a total of 315 sightings throughout the month. That’s up from the 302 sightings in May and the 299 sightings in April.

Just in June, seals RK30, RK38 and RO28 all also gave birth to healthy pups on remote Kauai beaches and the first pup of the year, weanling RK42, has been seen healthy and catching lobsters.

In May, Michelle Barbieri, wildlife veterinary medical officer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Service Center, said officials are looking forward to a “dynamic pupping season” and that there’s a chance for a high number of pups on Kauai this year.

“It’s early in the pupping season and it’s going to be a dynamic number,” Barbieri said in May. “We’re having more pups born on the Hawaiian Islands every week and it’s really a positive pupping year.”

In 2017, 161 pups were counted in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and 34 were counted in the Main Hawaiian Islands.

In order to keep track of the numbers and health of the endangered Hawaiian monk seals, NOAA asks anyone who sees a monk seal to report it on their website. Any stranded or entangled animals should be reported to 1-888-256-9840.

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