HONOLULU – State and federal authorities plan to move a newborn Hawaiian monk seal away from congested Waikiki so it can remain a wild animal and won’t become accustomed to interacting with people.
Officials will take the seal shortly after it is weaned to a remote, undisclosed part of Oahu island, David Schofield, the regional marine mammal response coordinator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said Tuesday.
Officials have moved newly weaned seals from other areas popular with people in the past, like Poipu on Kauai, Schofield said. The aim is to allow the seal to grow up with other seals instead of playing with and mimicking humans. There’s also a risk people may feed the young seals, even by accident.
“We want the seal to learn to be a seal, not to be a pet,” Schofield said.
Hawaiian monk seals are a critically endangered species. There are only 1,400 remaining in the wild.
The seal’s mother gave birth in late June. It was the first seal born in Waikiki, one of the world’s most famous tourist beaches, since record-keeping began a few decades ago.
In addition to human interactions, authorities were worried the pup may be hurt when it swims into the Waikiki Natatorium. The saltwater pool was built as a memorial to troops killed in World War I but has since closed and fallen into disrepair. Rusting rebar protrudes from its broken concrete walls today.
The pup, affectionately called Kaimana after the beach where it was born, swam into the Natatorium at least three times since late last month.
Schofield said officials will confirm the mother has left before they take the young seal away. They will tag and vaccinate it at the same time. They don’t expect to have to sedate the animal.
Nearly 80 percent of Hawaiian monk seals live among remote atolls northwest of Hawaii’s main islands. About 300 live among the main islands, which is also where Hawaii’s 1.4 million people live.
The monk seal population had been declining since the 1950s, when federal authorities counted 3,400 seals on Northwestern Hawaiian Island beaches. But earlier this year, authorities announced the population has grown about 3 percent a year for the past three years. They hope to help the population rebound to 1950s levels.