The Hawaii Tourism Authority is urging beachgoers to avoid Kaimana Beach while monk seals are grooming
The Hawaii Tourism Authority sent out an email today advising visitors to temporarily avoid Kaimana Beach in Waikiki due to a mother monk seal nursing her pup in the area.
Identified by wildlife officials as RH58, this Hawaiian monk seal is known as Rocky to the public, who see them often.
Rocky gave birth to her 14th pup, PO8, in Kaimana Beach on July 9 and the pair are expected to remain in the area until at least mid-August until the pup is generally weaned.
HTA explained that on July 24, “A nearby swimmer attracted the seals’ attention and the mother seal pursued the swimmer – a perceived threat to her pup – and the encounter resulted in the swimmer being injured.
On Thursday, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources began enforcing a 50-yard or 150-foot cordon around the two endangered monk seals after videos surfaced of beachgoers crowding around them.
“For your safety and theirs, stay vigilant and keep a respectful distance from these endangered animals and other protected marine life in Hawaii,” HTA said in its email blast. “If you are in an area where mother seals with pups have been sighted, please stay at least 50 meters away from marine life on land and in the water. This guidance protects you and our vulnerable marine animals protected by state and federal laws.”
HTA continued, “We encourage the public to visit one of Oahu’s many other amazing beaches during this time to avoid interactions with the monk seal and her pup, and ask for the industry’s kokua to help spread the word.”
Wildlife experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recommend giving mother-pup monk seal pairs 150 feet apart both on land and in the water, as mothers can be very territorial and protective of their pups.
Better yet, NOAA says, is to choose a different beach to avoid interactions with mother seals.
DLNR said Saturday that three days after the 24-hour enforcement of the Kaimana Beach cordon, no subpoenas or arrests have been made.
With only about 1,500 Hawaiian monk seals left in the wild, pinnipeds are one of the most endangered seal species in the world. They are protected by state laws as well as the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Under state law, molesting or harming a Hawaiian monk seal is a Class C felony, punishable by imprisonment and fines.
In recent years, visitors have been fined for hitting or touching monk seals resting on shorelines after videos of their actions were posted on social media.
DLNR said exceeding the 150ft limit would be considered “frustrating a government operation” and classified as a misdemeanor.
When pup PO8 is weaned, officials are likely to relocate him to a more secluded location, away from people, as they have done with two previous monk seal pups born on Kaimana Beach.