2018 monk seal pup season is record-breaking — but hold the applause

(Image: NOAA)
(Image: NOAA)
Published: Jul. 19, 2018 at 8:25 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 20, 2018 at 9:11 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Scientists say the 2018 pup season has been a record-breaking one on the main Hawaiian islands, with 27 pups born since Rocky gave birth.

"But that doesn't mean we should be shooting off fireworks," said Jon Gelman, president of Hawaii Marine Animal Response. Gelman's organization responds to sightings of monk seals and turtles on Oahu and Molokai.

"Even with record breaking numbers, we're still suffering from loss," he said.

According to Gelman, that loss is mainly stemming from three issues: Fishing interactions, human-caused injuries and death, and toxoplasmosis, a parasite spread through cat feces.

Gelman said that even with all these pups born, the Hawaiian monk seal population has flat-lined in the past two or three years on the main islands.

"We don't have enough animals surviving to offset this," he said. "Every year we see births, but we continue to have those three threats."

Although, he added, the latest 2017 survey didn't include the recent pup season. It estimated there are 1,400 monk seals throughout Hawaii and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Less than 300 of them are on the main Hawaii islands.

Still, three monk seals death have been blamed on toxoplasmosis just in recent months. And National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration veterinarian Michelle Barbieri said at least six monk seals have been believed to be killed by humans since 2009.

Gelman said though conservation efforts have proven to help the population, monk seals will need to double their numbers before the line crosses from the label of endangered species to threatened.

"This is multi-decade, multi-generational conservation efforts," Gelman said. He added it could take decades.

Officials say the best thing the public can do is to report any sightings to the NOAA marine animal hotline at 888-256-9840 and give the animals space.

"We need information on these animals before they get too sick," Gelman said.

Gelman recalls an incident earlier in the year with a monk seal who eventually died from toxoplasmosis.

Scientists learned after-the-fact that there people spotted signs of the same seal exhibiting "off" behavior, but it was never reported.

"Protecting every animal is critical," he said.

Take Rocky for example. She's had 11 pups. And every death of a seal takes away any possibility the animal had of reproducing and sustaining the endangered population.

"For over three million years, they have called Hawaii home," Gelman said. "They are truly a Hawaiian treasure."

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