A Hawaiian monk seal pupped in late April is now on his own, and state and wildlife officials are asking the public to keep their distance.
Off-road vehicles have been driving in an area that has been cordoned off to protect the male monk seal in the Mahaiula section of Kekaha Kai State Park. The seal, named “Hiwahiwa,” which means “precious” in Hawaiian, was recently weaned by mother, R405.
Staff from The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital, who have been monitoring and protecting the seals, photographed tire tracks on the beach and they worry “the very active” pup could be injured or killed while roaming around the area. West Hawaii Today is not identifying the specific beach to protect the critically endangered mammal.
“We are in the process of identifying access points that ATV’s are using and will look at putting up barricades or warning signs. In the meantime, we implore operators of off-road vehicles to only ride in legal and open areas and to never ride in places that could endanger any of Hawaii’s wildlife. Not only could an endangered monk seal pup or adult be hurt or killed, a driver could be as well,” said DLNR Division of State Parks administrator Curt Cottrell in a prepared statement.
Hiwahiwa was born in late April to R405, a “transient” seal with a fairly unknown history first spotted in March 2019 and has been seen since occasionally frequenting the Big Island. Monk seals typically wean around 5 to 7 weeks of age.
An estimated 1,400 monk seals inhabit the main and Northwestern Hawaiian islands, according to NOAA. Approximately 300 of those seals cruise the waters and haul up on beaches in the main Hawaiian Islands.
The center advises that the public can play an important role in the conservation of the endangered species by keeping a few marine wildlife viewing tips in mind when visiting local beaches and wildlife preserves by keeping a safe distance from seals, using the zoom function on cameras and reporting sightings.
A good “rule of thumb” to know if you’re too close to a monk seal is to hold up your thumb perpendicular to the animal, and if you can see any of the seal, you are too close.
To report a sighting, call or text The Marine Mammal Center’s Hawaii Island response team at its 24-hour hotline at (808) 987-0765. To report wildlife harassment, call NOAA Fisheries’ Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964.