One seal growing, another on the mend

  • Kaulana suns himself at a Kona Coast beach on Thursday. Named by a cultural practitioner for the area, Kaulana means famous, celebrated, renowned, resting place, joyful, and quiet. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Kaulana suns himself at a Kona Coast beach on Thursday. The seal is one of an estimated 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals in the main and northwester Hawaiian Islands. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Keiki grow up so quickly.

A Hawaiian monk seal born March 20 at a Kona Coast beach is on his own after the endangered mammal’s mother RA20 followed nature’s course on May 5, heading out to sea on her own after 47 days nursing and preparing her offspring for the world.

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Now named Kaulana, the once little 25-pound monk seal has packed on weight, topping 150 pounds. He’s also traded in his silky black coat in favor of the more typical seal color of silver.

“He’s a big boy,” Dr. Claire Simeone, hospital director at The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital in Kailua-Kona, said Thursday. “He’s went from at birth being the weight of a small dog to the weight of an adult human in just 47 days time — it’s just an incredible process.”

And it’s a process that’ll continue for some time — until the male seal reaches about 600 pounds.

“He’s got a lot of growing for sure,” she said.

Just hours after RA20 left the Kona Coast beach, the center’s staff and volunteers, as well as a team from NOAA fisheries, restrained the pup for a quick health exam. He was also microchipped and his rear flippers were tagged, making him officially RL50.

“Everything looked great. He was very alert and vocal as we would expect so we’re really happy there,” Simeone said.

The seal got his Hawaiian name, Kaulana, just over a week before his weaning. Named by a cultural practitioner for the area, Kaulana means famous, celebrated, renowned, resting place, joyful, and quiet.

Ke Kai Ola volunteers are monitoring the seal at the undisclosed site and guiding community members who come upon Kaulana on the proper ways to experience the mammal. A good “rule of thumb” to know if you’re too close to a monk seal is to hold up your thumb perpendicular to the animal, and if you can see any of the seal you are too close.

Back at the monk seal hospital at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority, Ke Kai Ola staff and volunteers continue to care for a patient that arrived from Kauai on March 12 suffering from weakness, infection, broad-scale inflammation and malnutrition.

RH38, a 3.5-year-old female, is in critical but stable condition after undergoing a CT scan last month at North Hawaii Community Hospital in Waimea. The full-body scan — the first of its kind for a wild Hawaiian monk seal — showed the seal was suffering muscle inflammation and infection in her back flippers, which spread to her bloodstream and caused a wide range of other problems, according to The Marine Mammal Center.

Based on the location and extent of the muscle damage, veterinarians suspect trauma as the initial cause of the injury, though the source is unknown. RH38 is currently receiving antibiotics, pain medications and laser therapy.

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“She’s continuing to make really important progress. Every day, she’s a little bit better,” Simeone said Thursday. “She’s still really critically ill, but I’m just so relieved that we have a diagnosis now and a treatment that appears to be working.”

Volunteers are also needed at the Kona hospital and visitor center in a variety of roles. Visit www.marinemammalcenter.org/kko-volunteer for more information.

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