Record-high 48 Hawaiian monk seals born in 2019

  • Kaulana suns himself at a Kona Coast beach in May 2019. A recording-breaking 48 Hawaiian monk seal pups were born in the main Hawaiian Islands in 2019, including Kaulana. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

A record-breaking 48 Hawaiian monk seal pups were born in the main Hawaiian Islands in 2019, including one on the Big Island.

Hawaii Island’s lone pup was Kaulana, a male monk seal born to RA20 in March 2019 on a Kona Coast beach. It was RA20’s second successful pupping at the same site, following the birth of Manuiwa in February 2018.

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“It has been hard to say whether the main Hawaiian Islands seal population was growing or holding steady. The 2019 results provide strong evidence that the number of seals in this region has been growing since at least 2013,” the program said in its update released Wednesday afternoon. “Despite these positive signs, we must work to mitigate many human-associated threats to the main Hawaiian Islands monk seal population.”

That includes toxoplasma, fisheries interactions, and intentional killings, the program said.

“It is notable that in 2019, drowning in fishing nets was the most likely cause of death for three juvenile seals on Oahu’s North Shore,” the program said in its update, advising the public follow guidelines for fishing safely around Hawaii

Overall, according to the program, the Hawaiian monk seal population has shown some signs of recovery over recent years, holding steady at 1,400 seals across the main and Northwestern Hawaiian islands.

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Approximately 1,100 seals reside in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands with about 300 seals cruise the waters and haul out on beaches in the main Hawaiian Islands. Population has grown at an average rate of about 2% since 2013, according to the program.

To mitigate threats to monk seals, the program and partners conducted numerous life-saving interventions in 2019. Among them was removing marine debris from 12 entangled seals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and from two in the main Hawaiian Islands; removing fish hooks from 21 seals in the main Hawaiian Islands; and translocating 14 pups from areas of high shark predation and nine seals from male seal aggression within the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

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