Monk seal gives birth to pup on North Kona beach

  • Manu‘iwa, as the female pup has been named, was born Feb. 8 to RA20, a 10-year-old female monk seal that does not have a nickname at a beach on the Kona Coast. (©Barry Brunt/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • Manu‘iwa nurses from mother, RA20. (©Barry Brunt/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • Manu‘iwa and mother, RA20, rest on the rocky shoreline of a North Kona beach. (©Barry Brunt/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • Manu‘iwa and mother, RA20, rest at a North Kona beach. (©Barry Brunt/Special to West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — A monk seal and her recently born pup are doing well resting on a North Kona beach.

Manu‘iwa, as the female pup has been named, was born Feb. 8 to RA20, a 10-year-old female monk seal that does not have a nickname, at a Kona Coast beach, said Tracy Mercer with the National Association and Atmospheric Association’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program.

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“This is her first successful pup,” Mercer said.

RA20 did give birth to a pup last year on the Big Island, however, that seal died just a couple of days after birth.

The pup also has some pretty famous Hawaiian monk seals in her family. Manu‘iwa is a “granddaughter” of Honey Girl, a well-known seal on Oahu identified as R5AY that’s raised numerous pups and even inspired a book. Honey Girl traveled to Kauai to give birth to RA20 in 2007.

“This is one of her daughters that has grown up and is now having pups of her own,” Mercer said of RA20. “She’s carrying on that ‘Honey Girl’ lineage.”

Both mom and pup were doing well as of last check by The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital, Mercer said Tuesday.

The specific location of the monk seal duo is being withheld to protect the mother and pup during, however, the seal is located at a North Kona beach, according to Sylvester Orosco, Ke Kai Ola response manager and animal care specialist.

Orosco said Manu‘iwa was named by a cultural adviser for the area and is a nod to the great frigate bird, Orosco said. The inspiration came from a dream.

“The person had the dream that she saw the monk seal swimming and gliding over the water as a frigate bird would do, and the frigate does journey for long distances and uses the glides over the water,” he explained. “That’s how the monk seal got the name.”

Officials with the NOAA monk seal program expect the pup will continue to nurse for a couple more weeks before weaning commences at which point the mother will leave the pup to fend for itself and survive.

The public is asked to keep a distance during this time as seal mother’s can become very protective and interaction with a young seal can negatively impact its chances of survival. A good “rule of thumb” to know if you’re too close to a mother and pup is to hold up your thumb perpendicular to the seal, and if you can see any of the sea you are too close, Mercer said.

Mercer said seals usually stay at their birth beach for 30-60 days after the mother has left before venturing farther. Seals may stay in the general area, cruise to another area of the same island or hop to another island altogether.

Few surviving pups have been born on the Big Island over the years.

Last year, two pups were born on the island but both died, including the one birthed by RA20, said Mercer.

The news of the birth of the two pups comes in the wake of the Monk Seal Research Program releasing its 2017 annual population update showing that the Hawaiian monk seal population remained stable in 2017 with close to 1,400 seals estimated across the species range.

The range stretches across the Hawaiian archipelago from Hawaii Island to Niihau and throughout Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument to Kure Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. About 300 live in the main Hawaiian Islands.

Since 2013, the overall population has grown about 2 percent annually. That growth is attributed largely to years of improved juvenile survival in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as population growth appears to be leveling off in the main Hawaiian Islands after a period of expansion in the 1990s into the early 2000s.

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The year was also positive for monk seal pups with 161 counted in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and 34 in the main Hawaiian Islands.

Orosco said those who would like to get involved with monk seals via The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital can email him at oroscos@tmmc.org to get additional information about upcoming volunteer classes.