One year ago Monday, the Laysan albatross arrived at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. They come from all corners of the globe to breed and raise their chicks. Because they are synchronous nesters, they all tend to arrive over the same three or four day period, like far-flung family members returning home for the holidays. Last year, they started arriving on November 10th. This year, they have yet to arrive.
But we do have another exciting arrival on the island: A Hawaiian monk seal pup was born in the early morning hours of Saturday, November 8.
When Hawaiian monk seal pups are born, they weigh in the neighborhood of 25 pounds. Over the next 5 to 7 weeks, it will gain another 150 pounds or so. During this time, as it nurses, mom does not feed. Typically, these seal feed offshore, diving 100 to 300 feet to forage for food (although the deepest dive recorded—thanks to “critter cameras” and other satellite tracking devices—is an amazingly deep 1,800 feet). While mom will take her growing offspring into the water so it learns to swim, she will not venture to the deep to eat. Not until the pup is pleasantly plump, and she is sufficiently hungry. Then, she will leave the pup, weaning it and leaving it to fend for itself.
In the mean time, with its mom at its side, the pup will learn how to use its flippers, how to close its nasal passages in the water and how to forage.
And right down the beach, a team of volunteers will ensure the newest member of a dwindling population has the best chance of survival possible. We set up moveable plastic fencing to give mom and pup time to do their thing, to keep dogs—and people—from disrupting the bond so critical between mom and pup during these early stages. (Dogs and cats, by the way, carry dangerous diseases that can be transmitted to seals. Not good.) We answer questions about the seals that come from curious visitors like what do they eat (fish, crustaceans, octopus) and how does mom stay hydrated (fat deposits) and why are their numbers declining (scientists aren’t exactly sure—could be lack of food resources, food competition, sharks and, possibly, a factor of global warming) and what sex is it (we don’t know yet).
I’ll keep you updated on the pup’s growth and such, so check back. And if you have a question about the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, add a comment here, and I’ll do my best to answer it.