Meet "KP4." Here, he squawks at his mother. At six days of age, he's a cutie. But he hasn't quite figured out exactly where on mom's body that yummy-liquid-stuff dispenses. I spent three hours with the pair yesterday, and he poked mom in the belly, neck, back and tail the entire time. A few nudges he got right and milky liquid streamed down his throat--and elsewhere.
A family sauntered by on the beach. When they saw the pup, they ooh'ed and aah'ed appropriately. They showed great interest--and respect in--the Hawaiian monk seals. The young son was particularly enamored. He exclaimed again and again that he wanted to get closer, to see the seal up close. I explained that these were endangered species. That we shouldn't disturb them--be quiet, stay downwind, keep out of their line of sight. That there are fines for disturbing them. That if mom gets upset, she may abandon the pup. I used all my stuff on him to impress the importance of maintaining a safe distance for all involved. When he repeated his desire for about the sixth time, I finally said something like, "Look, kid, these are wild animals. Mom will not let you get that close. She'll protect her pup. That means, she'll attack. And, by the way, she has teeth."
Admittedly, I'd like to snuggle with this seal pup, too. He evokes that kind of a response. As sweet as he is, though, I learned something this week that has shifted my focus to his mother. This is her seventh pup in as many years. When she swims through the waters around Hawai'i, she reigns supreme in my mind. She may not look it as she lounges on the beach like a log with green algae growing on her tail flippers and a few nicks and scrapes surrounding her face, but she is regal. "K12," as she is known, is a vital, reproductive member of the Hawaiian monk seal population. And she's doing her very best in single-handedly saving the species.
Earlier this week, I learned the latest population count for this critically endangered species has fallen below 900.