Welcoming the future of Hawaiian Monk Seals

Gary Langley has welcomed four of Hawaiian Monk Seal RK22’s pups from the same area over the years, but this year was special.

That’s because he was there for the birth of PK2 on Monday.

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The Hawaiian Monk Seal is endemic to the islands and is on the endangered species list. 

“I’ve been there five or 10 minutes after birth, but I’ve never actually witnessed the birth until now,” the Kapaa man said. “She had two or three contractions and then her head and tail went up in the air at the same time, she had one huge contraction and out it came.”

Langley said the birth took about 15 minutes, an unusually quick delivery within the monk seal world.

PK2 was born just after 4 p.m., near the water, which is slightly unusual, said Jamie Thomton, Kauai marine mammal response coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“A lot of times the monk seals like to come up the beach a bit further and RK22 usually likes to do that, but sometimes they’ll have their babies right at the water,” Thomton said.DSC_0299

PK2 is also bigger than most monk seal pups. Thomton said the new pup, less than 30 hours old, looked like it had been eating for nearly a week already.

“A lot of the pups when they’re born, they’re pretty skinny. You can see their shoulder blades a little bit and then they get fatter on the milk,” Thomton said.

When they’re born, monk seal pups usually weigh about 30 pounds. In the six weeks of nursing, the baby seal will balloon to around 150 pounds.

“They get so round that when you put mamma and baby next to each other and look at them head-on, you almost can’t tell the difference,” Thomton said. “The mom fasts that whole time, so she transfers all her nutrients to the pup.”

After six weeks, the mom leaves the pup to fend for itself, which is when all the extra blubber comes in handy.

“The pup doesn’t really know how to feed itself for the first few months, so food is pretty scarce until they figure it out,” Thomton said.

While most pups wait a while to get their bearings after birth, and then begin to search for milk, Langley said frisky little PK2’s first instinct was to head toward the waves.DSC_0263

“The mom had to put her head on the pup to stop it from going into the water,” Langley said. “I didn’t really see it nurse yesterday, so I’m glad its nursing today.”

The umbilical cord was still attached to the pup Tuesday, and Thomton said it will fall off in a few days. What he’s curious about is the gender.

“We haven’t had a good enough look at it to find out,” Thomton said. “There’s so much sand all over the pup.”

PK2 is Kauai’s second pup of the season. Thomton said PK1 is healthy and still with its mom, RK30, on the Na Pali Coast.

Written for The Garden Island Newspaper, published May 25, 2016. Origional photos by Jessica Else. 

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