KAILUA-KONA — Hawaiian monk seal pup RK58 was recently returned to the wild on Kauai after successful rehabilitation at Ke Kai Ola, The Marine Mammal Center’s hospital and visitor center in Kailua-Kona.
The male pup, RK58, was born on July 16, 2018, to monk seal RH58 (Rocky), and involved in a switch with another mom-pup pair on the same beach, The Marine Mammal Center said Thursday. Despite best efforts to keep the pair together, Rocky stopped nursing her pup, prompting intervention.
“RK58 was a challenging case, and it was clear after months of rehabilitative work that he would not have survived on his own in the wild,” said Claire Simeone, hospital director at Ke Kai Ola. “We are thrilled that he has learned the skills he needs to successfully forage, and that he has a second chance at life back on Kauai.”
Pup switches are a natural occurrence that are observed annually in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, but are less common in the main Hawaiian Islands due to the lower density of moms and pups.
Earlier this year, experts from The Marine Mammal Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration successfully rehabilitated Sole, a young male pup born on Molokai that was also involved in a mom-pup pair switch, the first time a rescue effort was made in response to this behavior in the main Hawaiian Islands, The Marine Mammal Center said.
RK58 is the youngest monk seal rehabilitated at Ke Kai Ola. It took him several months to learn how to eat fish on his own, but in the six months that he was at Ke Kai Ola, he nearly doubled in body weight, according to the center.