Wildlife officials have decided to move the Hawaiian monk seal pup, PO3, nicknamed Kaimana.
The pup was born on Kaimana Beach in Waikiki in late June. She and her mother, RH58, known as Rocky, have become quite popular among residents and visitors alike, drawing daily crowds to the area.
Unfortunately, officials say, their continued presence comes with great risk, a risk that only increases once Kaimana is weaned and Rocky leaves her.
“We weighed two options with utmost consideration for safety; both for the seal and the public. One option was to simply leave the weaned seal at Kaimana Beach. The other, our chosen option, is to move the seal to a more secluded location, where she can grow up naturally in the company of other wild monk seals, without a high level of human interaction,” said David Schofield, NOAA Fisheries regional marine mammal response coordinator.
Officials say they did not make this decision likely. It required extensive discussion and analysis by experts, managers and scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries); the DLNR Chair’s Office and its Divisions of Aquatic Resources (DAR) and Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE).
Other agencies involved include the city’s Emergency Services Department, Division of Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services, Department of Parks and Recreation, the Mayor’s Office, and Hawaii Marine Animal Response (HMAR).
One major factor is Kaimana’s propensity to swim into the dilapidated Waikiki Natatorium, which has happened on at least three known occasions.
On Friday, July 28, Kaimana disappeared from her mom and was later spotted in the Natatorium’s pool. NOAA staff and volunteers managed to rescue and hand-carry her back to her mother after a 45-minute separation. On Thursday, Aug. 3, Kaimana once again swam into the pool, and was later joined by Rocky. Both swam out without incident. On Monday night, Aug. 7, they did it again.
Officials say the Natatorium is replete with unseen underwater hazards, including confined spaces, rubble, and rebar.
Another risk, officials say, is the presence of humans, no matter how good their intentions. There have already been several close calls with swimmers and beachgoers, despite an established perimeter to provide the seals with ample, isolated space.
“Young seals are extremely impressionable and if Kaimana was exposed to extensive human interaction, she will likely develop unhealthy behaviors. If a seal does become conditioned to people, as it gets older, bigger and more powerful, people in the water sought out by a seal can and have been badly hurt,” said Dr. Bruce Anderson, DAR administrator.
A blessing ceremony was held Tuesday morning to send mom and pup off on their new journey. Officials say they plan to tag Kaimana so they can keep track of her.
Once the two leave for good, officials will reopen part of the beach that is currently been blocked off.
DOCARE enforcement chief Robert Farrell added, “This decision to relocate is not made lightly, as there are human-caused dangers elsewhere too, not the least of which is illegal unattended lay gill nets that have caused the sad drownings of four seals in recent years. We know lay gill nets are a real problem for monk seals, turtles and other animals that all too frequently get entangled in them and die because they can’t breathe.”
The public is asked to report any potential dangers or violations to the Department of Land and Natural Resources through the DLNRtip app or by calling the DOCARE hotline at 643-DLNR (3567).