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Endangered monk seal mom with new pup needs space in Waikiki

HONOLULU (AP) — Wildlife officials want people on a Waikiki beach to give an endangered newborn seal and its nursing mother lots of space.

Kaiwi, a Hawaiian monk seal mom and her pup, PO2, are nursing and bonding at Kaimana Beach, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Wednesday.

State and federal officials want people to go to another beach for swimming and paddling for the next several weeks.

“Like all mothers, monk seals are very protective of their pups,” David Schofield, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration marine mammal coordinator, said in a release. “While they are resting on the beach, they look docile, but once they go into the water they can move very, very fast, like lightning speed. If a mother seal detects any threat to her pup, she is likely to attack and that is a major concern for us.”

NOAA says monk seal mothers spend about six to eight weeks with pups before weaning.

Officials want people to stay at least 150 feet away from the pair and not use drones or flash photography to take pictures.

Kristina Dauterman, dispatch and reporting manager for Hawaii Marine Animal Response, said most people have stayed away. Last week, two unleashed dogs approached the seal and pup, Dauterman said.

The seal barked at the dogs and scared them away, and there was no contact, Dauterman said. Dogs are not allowed at Kaimana Beach and should be kept away for the safety of both the seals and dogs.

As the baby monk seal starts to move around and explore, a perimeter set up by the group may have to be adjusted.

“We would also appreciate it if people would allow the seals to haul out of the water when they are moving around,” Dauterman said. “It is important that the pup can come out wherever and whenever he needs to, to rest and nurse.”

In 2009, a woman from Washington was attacked by a monk seal that was with her pup. The woman was snorkeling off a remote beach on the island Kauai.

Earl Miyamoto, a retired state wildlife manager, said the woman suffered a skull fracture and broken bones in her hand after being bitten.

“This is a wild animal; the ocean is the seal’s home,” Miyamoto said in a statement. “If you are out there swimming and it doesn’t matter how strong of a swimmer you are, if that seal decides you are a threat, you have no chance of escaping.”