No clear solution for Natatorium after monk seal pup trapped a second time

Wildlife officials responded Thursday after a monk seal pup had once again separated from her mother.

RH58, also known as Rocky, was spotted alone, swimming off Kaimana Beach and wailing for her pup, who had once again gotten into the Waikiki Natatorium.

“Pup was pacing on the inside, mom was pacing on the outside. (There were) a lot of vocalizations,” said David Schofield, marine mammal response coordinator. “The mom was pretty frantic moving up and down this wall right here.”

NOAA officials tell us that Rocky and Kaimana were separated for about two hours before Rocky eventually entered the Natatorium to be with her pup.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was alerted at 10:45 a.m.

“On our way down here, we had a report that the mother figured out how to get into the Natatorium, so the good news is that the mom was able to reunited with the pup on its own,” said Schofield. “That has diminished both of their stress levels.”

Both mom and pup were able to exit the Natatorium and are now resting comfortably back on Kaimana Beach.

The first time

In the evening hours of July 28, mom and pup were previously separated, sparking panic.

Wildlife officials finally rescued the pup from inside the Natatorium, who has been nicknamed Kaimana, at around 8:30 p.m. They wrapped her in a blanket, using it as a makeshift stretcher to reunite her with her mother.

“From the time that we were able to put hands on the pup and capture her, put her into the stretcher and carry her down and reunite her with mom, it took about nine and a half minutes,” Aliza Milette-Winfree, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration marine mammal biologist, previously told KHON2. “From my understanding and our experience today, the Natatorium is definitely in a dilapidated state. NOAA will be working with the state and City and County to make sure we try and monitor and address the scenario.”

City explains issue with blocking holes

Officials point out the potential dangers when something like this happens not just for the monk seals, but to people on the beach.

But at this point, there’s no clear solution on how to prevent it from happening again.

City officials acknowledged the Natatorium’s deteriorated condition Thursday, but say they’re unable to close the structure’s numerous openings.

“Unfortunately, we cannot put up any gratings to cover those holes. We don’t have the permits necessarily to do that, and also just the condition of the structure. We know it was originally built with two openings, but with the deterioration, there’s probably a few more that we’re not sure which way they’re coming in and out,” said Mark Yonamine, deputy director of the city Department of Design and Construction. “There are unforeseen cavities in there, confined spaces, rubble, rebar, things that we’re not completely aware of.”

The permit has to come from the Army Corps of Engineers. The city also does not want to put any ramps because the structure is so fragile it might collapse.

“There’s huge sections where the deck has caved in, so it’s pretty bad,” Yonamine said. “We’re just kind of in a wait-and-see and support role to NOAA.”

“It appears the mom and pup know how to go in and out, which is good,” Schofield said. “It’s good that the mom and pup are not demonstrating any type of stress swimming. Their respiration rates are normal and not elevated.”

Rocky gave birth on June 29 and she and her pup have spent the past month in the area. Crowds gather daily to watch them.

Officials urge swimmers to stay out of the water and for the public to respect the perimeters and warning signs, especially after these ordeals.

“(Rocky) weighs about 300 to 400 pounds and she can be aggressive,” Schofield warned. “Monk seals aren’t normally aggressive, but you put a pup in harm’s way in any situation in the wild kingdom, mom is going to be protective.”

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