I visited the Big Island’s newest monk seal pup again, a couple of days ago, and I’m happy to report that mother and pup continue to do well. Since my last post about the pup, it’s clearly been packing on the pounds. Equally obvious is the mother’s loss of weight. Also, since that post, the pup has also been identified as female and given a name, Manu’iwa, which is a reference to the great frigatebird.
In these photos the pup is exactly 6 weeks old, so sometime very soon the mother will leave the pup to fend for herself. The top photo shows the two of them, the pup having shed her black baby coat for the more usual monk seal look. At right, Manu’iwa has a feed. She was lying in the water which is why her lower half looks smooth while the dry upper part is raised and lighter. Below, mom heads for the water leaving Manu’iwa barking that she’s still hungry. Bottom, mom leads Manu’iwa out into the water for a swim, part of her ongoing education of the pup so that it will be able to fend for itself.
I should mention that these photos, as with those in the previous post, are taken with a telephoto lens. The area where the seals spend their time is cordoned off with volunteers monitoring the area and providing information to visitors. The volunteers work to minimize human interactions with the seals. If the pup gets used to humans it may seek them out and, at some point, is likely to have an interaction that ends badly – not necessarily for the pup, but for the person involved. This could be a bite or something more serious. If the pup, or any seal, has such encounters, it will likely have to be captured and relocated to the northwest Hawaii islands, which are uninhabited. This would be hard on the seal, faced with new territory and greater competition, and also be a blow to the goal of raising the number of monk seals living permanently around the main Hawaii islands.