It has been a busy summer for seals on Kaua`i! A record
four pups were born this year on Kaua`i, the most famous being on busy Po`ipu
Beach. There are three remaining, with one presumed dead. All three are
thriving on the same remote beach on the north shore, where they often play
together, rolling in the shallows. They must be eating well as they do
not seem to have lost any weight.
The Mahaulepu mom and pup completed their cycle
together on September 14th. Overall, their chosen habitat was much quieter and
less publicized than the Po`ipu mom and pup. They seemed to enjoy the rougher
water and would roll around in the shore break for hours. They also rested and
nursed in approximately the same location on the beach, which allowed much simpler
fencing and signage. When mom left (after six weeks), the pup was relocated
to the same beach as the Po`ipu pup.
There have been more than a few requests about the Kaua`i Monk Seal Watch Program; what it does and how it operates. So I thought that I would give you a view of the program from a personal perspective.
About 2-1/2 years ago, I realized that I wanted to give something back to this beautiful island community where I am privileged to live. Since I walk the beaches near my home every morning, I had already taken note of the monk seals frequently hauled up and resting. I also noticed that people were frequently too close to them, causing disturbance to the seals, occasionally to the point of returning to the ocean. About that same time there was a training course offered for volunteers in the Kaua`i Monk Seal Watch Program. Their priority was protecting the seals that use Kaua`is shorelines, as well as promoting environmental education, understanding and appreciation of Hawaiian Monk Seals. They are the most endangered seal species in the U. S., with only about l,200 remaining, the large majority being on the uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
So, new accessories added to my morning walk were a pair of binoculars and a "scar card" to document and identify any seals hauled out to rest. Documenting and monitoring seals with injuries (such as one with a fish hook embedded in her mouth), became part of the job. I could also make notes on seals not seen before that may be new to Kaua`i.
Some of the hotels' security personnel and lifeguards on the beaches have been exemplary putting up signs and ropes around hauled-out seals. Adding a volunteer to this job greatly contributes, not only in educating the public, but in moving the signage as the seals move around on the beach. A certain distance is maintained in order to ensure their rest between their nightly feeding forays.
It has become a joy to begin to know certain seals and where they haul out, which ones may be molting at certain times of the year, and how many males and females are in the area. They do not seem to mind the presence of people unless they are disturbed. I have noticed for over a year now a heightened interest in the seals, with people keen to know more about their habits and biology. I see this as a sign of taking responsibility for stewardship of the earth, providing a sacred space for these seals that coexisting with us here on this beautiful island.
There are several key volunteers on each side of the island that take responsibility for certain beaches, thus establishing a rapidly growing community network with a cohesive working relationship. It seemed that a closer connection was needed in order to stay abreast of happenings on the island, so in May of this year, I was moved to write a newsletter for that reason.
Then several things happened in rapid succession. I was asked to be the coordinator for the volunteers for the island and a seal pup was born on the north shore, thankfully on a remote beach. Seven weeks later, the famous Po`ipu pup was born very close to my home, with records of that experience in the last newsletter. (There was not time or space to report the behind-the-scenes events taking place during that six week cycle. In addition to frequent press coverage, we were dealing with 500-800 people coming each day to visit the mom and pup.)
Since some of the Kaua`i Monk Seal Watch Program was already in place, it was easy to mobilize volunteers, many of whom were tourists. They helped protect the mom and pup, and educate visitors who came to see this phenomenal event. Many more people on the island are now reporting sightings of seals on their beaches. This gives us a more accurate picture of seal behavior, and makes us more response ready for any disturbance or emergency.
There is another training session for volunteers planned in the near future. The satisfaction and fulfillment from being with the seals on the beach cannot be fully described. It is a great privilege and blessing to be among them.
The newsletter has grown from a few subscribers to over 200 because of the birth at Po`ipu and Maha`ulepu beaches in July and August. Some past newsletters contain more specific information. Since I have met most of you personally, I wanted this newsletter to convey the connective spirit of what happens here.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
While Poipu Beach was closed for six weeks for the seals,
Brad Ryon, the marine biologist assigned to the project, noticed some unusual
turtle behavior. A large green sea turtle came up on the beach, and returned
every night thereafter for several weeks. There have never been reports
of turtles coming ashore in this area. Then we noticed a turtle swimming in
the closed portion of the beach during the day, where none had ever been spotted
before. They seemed to sense the absence of human presence in that particular
area and felt safe to be there.
Mahalo and blessings,
Kaua`i Monk Seal Watch Program Volunteer Coordinator and Liaison
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