Featured Image Credit: Audrey McAvoy
By Laura O’Brien
A 10-year-old monk seal called RA20 brought a precious new life into the world this February. Her daughter was born on Kona Beach on Feb. 8, and she has been nicknamed Manu‘iwa. Sylvester Orosco, the response manager and animal care specialist at Ke Kai Ola, described the dream which inspired Manu’iwa’s name. He said, “the person had the dream that she saw the monk seal swimming and gliding over the water as a frigate bird would do, and the frigate does journey for long distances and uses the glides over the water”. Manu‘iwa is a reference to the great frigate bird.
RA20 is the daughter of a celebrity seal who was named Honey Girl, and Tracy Mercer of the National Association and Atmospheric Association’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program said, “she’s carrying on that ‘Honey Girl’ lineage”. RA20 gave birth to another pup last year on Big Island, but that pup passed away after only a couple days of life. Tracy Mercer stated, “this is her first successful pup”. In order to protect RA20 and Manu‘iwa, their exact location has not been announced. Hawaiian monk seals are expected to nurse for about two weeks, and after that period Manu‘iwa is left to fend for herself. During the period of time in which seals are nursing, NOAA asks that beachgoers keep their distance from the seals. Mother seals can become very territorial while during that time, and baby seals are often abandoned by their mothers if they are approached. In fact, getting too close to a seal pup can dramatically reduce its likelihood of survival. Tracy Mercer suggested that if you see a mother and pup, hold up your thumb perpendicular to the seal. If the seal is not completely hidden behind your thumb, then you are too close to it.
Last year only two seal pups were born on Big Island (including RA20’s pup), and both pups died. Unfortunately, Big Island has not been seeing many successful births. According to the 2017 annual population update released by the NOAA’s Monk Seal Research Program, the Hawaiian Monk Seal population did remain stable despite the lack of seal births on Big Island. Only about 300 of the approximate 1,400 monk seals live in the main Hawaiian islands, as their range extends well beyond the islands. Many people have contributed to improving the juvenile survival rate in the Northwestern islands, and there has been population growth amongst monk seals since 2013. Sylvester Orosco offered his email address, email@example.com for those who are interested in taking volunteer classes to get involved at The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital.
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