Officials keeping eye on Hawaiian monk seal RA20 as pupping season nears

  • Hawaiian monk seal RA20 rests at Niumalu Beach on Wednesday. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Hawaiian monk seal RA20 rests at Niumalu Beach on Wednesday. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Hawaiian monk seal RA20 rests at Niumalu Beach on Wednesday. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Hawaiian monk seal RA20 rests at Niumalu Beach on Wednesday. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Hawaiian monk seal RA20 has been making her presence in Big Island waters known as of recent, hauling out at a variety of spots in West Hawaii, including in the heart of Kailua Village.

The 12-year-old seal who’s successfully birthed two pups on the Kona Coast in as many years may be preparing for another round of motherhood, or she could just be packing on weight thanks to the bounty of food the Big Island’s leeward coast provides the pinniped.

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“She’s doing really well,” said Megan McGinnis, animal care manager at The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital in Kailua-Kona. “As far as pregnancy status, you can’t really identify that like with humans you do an ultrasound because that’s not really an option with a wild seal.”

Either way, the center’s team is keeping a watchful eye over the endangered monk seal that reared a female pup, Manuiwa, in 2018 and a male pup, Kaulana, in 2019.

“She has pupped in the spring the last two years so we’re definitely keeping an eye on her and preparing for that being a possibility again,” McGinnis said.

The center’s also keeping tabs on RA20’s pups who continue to thrive.

“They both have really nice body conditions,” she said adding that Kaulana has been seen interacting with other seals.

RA20 is one of a handful of seals that frequent the Big Island and among the estimated 300 monk seals that call the main Hawaiian Islands home. An additional 1,100 live in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, according to the Monk Seal Research Program.

The 2018 pupping season was very successful, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Thirty pups were born in the main Hawaiian Islands during 2018, beating the previous record of 21 pups in 2013.

Details about the 2019 pupping season won’t be released until February or March, according to NOAA Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program Lead Scientist Michelle Barbieri, DVM.

Meanwhile, at Ke Kai Ola, four endangered Hawaiian monk seals rescued from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands continue to receive care after being brought to the facility this September.

All four of the female pups were weaned too young, leaving them too weak to catch fish on their own. Two of the seals were rescued from Pearl and Hermes Atoll and are identified as DL32 and DL36.

The other two seals, identified as LL34 and LL00, were rescued from Lisianski Island.

“We’ll get a little more weight on them so they’ll have an extra leg up when they head out in early spring,” McGinnis said noting the seals have already doubled in weight.

Since welcoming its first patient in July 2014, Ke Kai Ola has rehabilitated and released 32 monk seals.

“We’ve surpassed 2% of the population that we’ve treated,” said McGinnis.

As always, members of the public should keep a safe distance from monk seals and report sightings on Hawaii Island to the The Marine Mammal Center’s local response team at the 24-hour hotline by calling (808) 987-0765.

Volunteers are also needed at the Kona hospital and visitor center in a variety of roles, including animal care, education and response.

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“We’re trying to stockpile as many people as possible especially with potential pupping season coming up were going to need all the help we can get,” McGinnis said.

Visit www.marinemammalcenter.org/kko-volunteer for more information.

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