Update on Kaimana, Hawai‘i'’'s Most Famous Monk Seal

Monk Seal of the Month  |   November 2017


ID/Name: RJ58/ Kaimana

Age/Size: Pup born in 2017

Birth Island: O‘ahu

Notable Facts: First monk seal born in Waikīkī; she and her mother, Rocky, became ambassadors for the species.





This month we’re updating you on O‘ahu’s celebrity monk seal — Kaimana (RJ58).

Rocky and Kaimana relax on Kaimana Beach. Photo © Carol Nakamoto.

Who Is Kaimana?

On June 29, 2017, a well-known female Hawaiian monk seal named Rocky (RH58) created a huge sensation when she gave birth to the first pup ever recorded on Waikīkī Beach!

Rocky had been a regular at Kaimana Beach (located on the eastern end of Waikīkī) for years, but she had never given birth there. After she had nine other pups on a secluded Kaua‘i beach, no one was expecting to get the news that Rocky had pupped in Waikīkī — just in time for a busy 4th of July weekend!

From the beginning, it required much effort — and a lot of cooperation from beach-goers — to allow this pair the space they needed to nurse peacefully on one of O‘ahu’s most popular beaches. During the six weeks that Rocky nursed her pup — Kaimana, as she became known — at Kaimana Beach, the pup was something of an ambassador monk seal. She was the first monk seal pup that most people had ever seen.

And with constant web-cam coverage and numerous news reports, people saw it all! We all laughed when she chewed pink slippers. We all worried when she got stuck in the decaying structure of the Waikīkī Natatorium War Memorial. We all cringed when swimmers got close enough to elicit a charge from Rocky. And we all waited with bated breath during the last days, wondering when Rocky would wean her pup.

Stars of a crowded Waikīkī beach, Rocky and Kaimana rest while crowds watch. NOAA Fisheries/Aliza Milette-Winfree.

Why Is Kaimana No Longer In Waikīkī?

Keeping the mom-and-pup pair safe during their nursing period was a huge success for the Honolulu community, but there was much concern for what would come next. Monk seals wean their pups abruptly, so we knew that one day Rocky would simply swim away, leaving Kaimana to fend for herself just as all newly weaned monk seals do.

But the large number of people on Kaimana Beach and the lack of other young monk seals meant that this pup might not learn to be a wild monk seal. Also, her repeated excursions into the dilapidated and potentially dangerous Natatorium were another worry. Ultimately, NOAA Fisheries decided that Kaimana Beach would be too risky a place for the young pup to grow up. So, shortly after Kaimana weaned, we relocated her to a quiet O‘ahu beach, which had other seals to play with and fewer people.

Right after weaning is an ideal time to introduce a seal pup to a new home. During nursing, pups rely solely on their mother’s milk; after weaning, pups typically spend at least a month living off the immense fat reserves they built up while nursing, as they slowly explore the ocean environment and learn to feed on their own.

Experience has shown that when moved soon after weaning, monk seal pups can easily adapt to a new area. And since monk seals don’t maintain maternal bonds after weaning, neither Rocky nor Kaimana will miss the other when they're on different beaches.

NOAA staff carefully carry Kaimana from Kaimana Beach to transport her to a new home, farther from people and closer to other seals.
Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources/Dan Denison

What's Kaimana Been Up To?

For about the first month at her new location, Kaimana stuck close to home and socialized with other seals in the area. She came to shore almost exclusively at her release site, swimming and diving mostly within a mile of the beach. But since September, she’s been increasing the area she explores — she’s been sighted on other beaches, including one located 4 miles down the coast. And she’s been swimming farther and farther into deeper waters, often reaching several miles offshore.

These are all good signs that Kaimana is growing and developing normal seal-foraging habits. Ironically, as monk seals grow up, they actually slim down as they lose their baby fat and develop a more streamlined physique. So, if Kaimana seems a little thinner, don't worry: it's all part of growing into a yearling monk seal.

As she continues to expand her foraging area and spends more time out at sea, we might see less and less of her. But, then again, as she finds new favorite spots, maybe we’ll see her at some popular beach sometime in the future.


What Can I Do If I Spot Kaimana?

We’ve recently gotten news that Kaimana has been seen investigating surfers at some popular spots. While a little curiosity is not concerning yet, it’s important to never engage with any young monk seal because those that get used to socializing with humans can become dangerous when they get bigger.

If ever approached by a seal in the water, please don't engage it. Leave the seal and report the interaction to our hotline.




UPDATE

January 3, 2018

Yesterday afternoon (January 2, 2018), NOAA Fisheries received a report that monk seal RJ58 "Kaimana" had what looked to be a fish hook in the left corner of the mouth. Volunteers from Hawaii Marine Animal Response monitored Kaimana as she rested on shore, while a NOAA Fisheries monk seal emergency teams responded. The response team was able to safely remove the hook (approximately 1 inch circle hook) on the beach. Kaimana was in good condition and immediately entered the water upon release. NOAA Fisheries will work with Hawaii Marine Animal Response to monitor Kaimana's health.

This is the second time that Kaimana has become hooked. In September 2017, she was seen with a treble hook and lure stuck in her lower lip. Kaimana was able to shake that superficial hook free on her own the same day, but this time she needed a little more help.

Click to enlarge photos

1 inch circle hook next to pen to compare size. Hawaian monk seal resting on the beach. Hawaiian monk seal head close-up shot. Fishing hook on left side of mouth. Left: The small (~1 inch) circle hook removed from Kaimana’s mouth. Pen for scale. Photo: Hawaiian Marine Animal Response.
Center: Kaimana relaxes on the beach (photo taken before the hook was discovered). Photo © Tammy Turgueax.
Right: It takes a good eye to notice the eye of a hook in the corner of Kaimana’s mouth. The NOAA team was alerted right away by an observant volunteer and the NOAA team were able to remove the hook before it does any harm.

NOAA Fisheries is very grateful to those who reported the hook!

ALWAYS REPORT interactions with monk seals, especially if a seal takes a hook from a line or may need help. You too could help save a seal: 1-888-256-9840


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