KAILUA-KONA — Hawaiian monk seal pup RK58 was recently returned to the wild on Kauai after successful rehabilitation at Ke Kai Ola, The Marine Mammal Center’s hospital and visitor center in Kailua-Kona.
The male pup, RK58, was born on July 16, 2018, to monk seal RH58 (Rocky), and involved in a switch with another mom-pup pair on the same beach, The Marine Mammal Center said Thursday. Despite best efforts to keep the pair together, Rocky stopped nursing her pup, prompting intervention.
“RK58 was a challenging case, and it was clear after months of rehabilitative work that he would not have survived on his own in the wild,” said Claire Simeone, hospital director at Ke Kai Ola. “We are thrilled that he has learned the skills he needs to successfully forage, and that he has a second chance at life back on Kauai.”
Pup switches are a natural occurrence that are observed annually in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, but are less common in the main Hawaiian Islands due to the lower density of moms and pups.
Earlier this year, experts from The Marine Mammal Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) successfully rehabilitated Sole, a young male pup born on Molokai that was also involved in a mom-pup pair switch, the first time a rescue effort was made in response to this behavior in the main Hawaiian Islands, The Marine Mammal Center said.
RK58 is the youngest monk seal rehabilitated at Ke Kai Ola. It took him several months to learn how to eat fish on his own, but in the six months that he was at Ke Kai Ola, he nearly doubled in body weight, accoridng to the center.
The seal will be monitored by volunteers in the Kauai Marine Mammal Response Network, and a satellite tag has been placed to track RK58’s movement and ensure he is thriving in the wild, the center said.
The Marine Mammal Center has rehabilitated 27 monk seals since opening Ke Kai Ola in 2014, the majority of which were rescued from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Researchers estimate the current monk seal population to be about 1,400 animals, and about 30 percent of those monk seals are alive today directly due to conservation efforts led by NOAA and its partners, The Marine Mammal Center said.
Members of the public should keep a safe distance from monk seals and report sightings on Hawaii Island to the center’s response team by calling the 24-hour hotline at (808) 987-0765. On Kauai, report monk seal sightings by calling (808) 651-7668.
Volunteers are needed at the Kona hospital and visitor center in a variety of roles, including animal care, education and response. Interested individuals should visit MarineMammalCenter.org/KKO-volunteer to learn more about the opportunities available.