Hawaiian monk seal released back to wild on Kauai after care at Ke Kai Ola

  • J. Hawaiian monk seal RK58 was released back to his birthplace on Kaua‘i after several months of rehabilitation at The Marine Mammal Center’s Hawaiian monk seal hospital, Ke Kai Ola. Photo by Jamie Thomton © NOAA / NOAA permit #18786
  • M. Researchers estimate the current Hawaiian 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, like The Marine Mammal Center. Photo by Jamie Thomton © NOAA / NOAA permit #18786
  • A. Hawaiian monk seal 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 before he was rescued by The Marine Mammal Center. Photo courtesy of Gary Langley, Kaua‘i Monk Seal Hui NOAA Volunteer / NOAA permit #18786
  • C. Mom-pup pair 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 number of moms and pups. Photo by Sheila Latta © The Marine Mammal Center / NOAA permit #18786
  • L. After spending several months rehabilitating at The Marine Mammal Center’s Hawaiian monk seal hospital, Ke Kai Ola, a satellite tag was placed on Hawaiian monk seal RK58 and his movements will be monitored by volunteers in the Kaua‘i Marine Mammal Response Network. Photo by Jamie Thomton © NOAA / NOAA permit #18786
  • I. Hawaiian monk seal RK58 sits in a small pool before he is released back to the ocean for a second chance at life after several months of rehabilitation at The Marine Mammal Center’s Hawaiian monk seal hospital, Ke Kai Ola. Photo by Claire Simeone © The Marine Mammal Center / NOAA permit #18786
  • H. The Marine Mammal Center is proud to work with NOAA and several other partners to support conservation efforts for the Hawaiian monk seal. Photo courtesy of Gary Langley, Kaua‘i Monk Seal Hui NOAA / NOAA permit #18786
  • G. Dr. Claire Simeone, Hospital Director and veterinarian at The Marine Mammal Center’s Hawaiian monk seal hospital, Ke Kai Ola, accompanied monk seal RK58 on a charter flight with Kamaka Air Cargo, which was generously provided by a private donor. Photo by Sheila Latta © The Marine Mammal Center / NOAA permit #18786
  • D. At The Marine Mammal Center’s Hawaiian monk seal hospital, Ke Kai Ola, monk seal RK58 learned the skills he needs to successfully forage and survive in the wild. Photo by Sheila Latta © The Marine Mammal Center / NOAA permit #18786

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.

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“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.

Simeone accompanied RK58 on a charter flight with Kamaka Air Cargo, which was generously donated by a private donor. In order to ensure that he had acclimated back to his environment, RK58 was monitored in a beach pen for two days before being released on a remote Kauai beach.

Involved in the release were Marine Mammal Center, NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources, and Kauai Marine Mammal Response Network volunteers.

“This was an excellent example of the public-private partnerships needed for conservation success,” said Simeone. “Conservation takes a village, and endangered Hawaiian monk seals benefit when our communities are inspired to contribute in such an impactful way.”

According to the center, it is rare to rescue a monk seal pup from the main Hawaiian Islands, and this young pup is only the third pup from the main islands to be rehabilitated by the center. The Marine Mammal Center is a member of the Pacific Island Region Marine Mammal Response Network and is responsible for monitoring the seals that haul out on Hawaii Island.

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.

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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.

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