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Baby monk seal, mom doing just fine at Keokea Beach Park

Baby Hawaiian monk seal nurses Friday at Keokea Beach Park. (Photo courtesy of Art Tarsa | NOAA Monk Seal Volunteer Team)

Baby Hawaiian monk seal nurses Friday at Keokea Beach Park. (Photo courtesy of Art Tarsa | NOAA Monk Seal Volunteer Team)

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

A baby Hawaiian monk seal seems to be thriving during its first week, as it nurses regularly at a North Kohala beach park.

The mother, who gave birth around sunset Monday, Nov. 11, has not left the side of her youngster since then and appears content to rest and recuperate at the county beach park.

County and federal officials are taking steps to ensure the mother and pup are protected. The county has instituted an earlier closing time for the park each evening and yellow tape fences off the portion of the sandy beach where they are resting.

Early Friday, the mother herded her youngster from the rocky shoreline to a sandy alcove away from the surf and mostly out of view. Tucked in behind some bushes, she and the pup were barely visible from the park’s pavilion.

The pup is at least the second endangered Hawaiian monk seal born on the Big Island this year and its mother also was born on this island.

The mother — who sports a pair of identifying tags on her rear flippers and is known as W34/W35 — was born sometime in September 2008 in Waimanu Valley.

The lineage of the pup’s grandmother is not known, although it is suspected she also may be a native Big Islander and one of about 10 born here in the last decade.

Officials have been monitoring the mother along the western coastline for several months, ever since they noticed she might be pregnant. Although monk seals typically start to breed about age 8, this seal is young, but mature at age 5.

Officials know W34/W35 well, as she was hooked by a fisherman off the Kohala Coast when she was very young. The fisherman reported the incident and W34/W35 was whisked to Oahu for treatment.

She eventually was returned to her native Big Island waters, where she beached herself Monday in advance of the birth.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the county Department of Parks and Recreation have ordered Keokea Beach Park to close at 7:30 p.m. each night while the young family remains on the shore.

Much of the park still is open to the public during the day and for visitors who want to see the pup, the pavilion is the best viewing spot. Volunteers are available to answer questions and ensure federal laws are observed.

These measures are necessary to ensure the baby seal’s survival and the survival of the species. It also protects humans who might be injured by an aggressive and protective mother seal.

Just last month, a male monk seal born on the island caused some strive and was re-located to Niihau.

The male pup, born in May at Kamilo Beach, became so conditioned to humans that he started swimming with Ironman triathletes and even nipped at two swimmers in Kailua Bay. That seal eventually was relocated to the island of Niihau.

Hawaiian monk seals are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act and under state laws. Anyone who intentionally harasses, harms or kills a monk seal is subject to penalties that include a five-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $50,000.

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