By Nina Wu
Happy monk seal Monday.
Here's an update on Pearl and Hermes — two prematurely weaned Hawaiian monk seal pups that NOAA researchers picked up from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, or Papahanaumokuakea, aboard the Hi‘ialakai in early June. The pair, one female and one male, are being rehabbed at Ke Kai Ola in Kona and doing well.
The seals, named Hermes and Pearl after the atolls where they were found, graduated from fish smoothies to eating whole fish last week. The shift to eating fish (thawed-out herring) is a significant step since it eliminates the need for tube feeding.
"Pearl is starting to put on weight," said operations manager Deb Wickham. "Hermes is not putting on as much, but he's basically stable."
Pearl weighs about 35 kilograms, and Hermes weighs about 36 kilograms.
When the monk seal pups first arrived, they were under a month old, with black coats. Their coats are now turning into a silvery sheen. Besides herring, Pearl and Hermes are also enjoying "fishstickles" this summer. They sleep a lot during the day, according to Wickham, but are also playful. They're up early in the morning, and at night.
"When they first arrived, they were suckling on each other," said Wickham. "They play together. They are very bonded."
The pups are expected to stay at Ke Kai Ola, a Hawaiian monk seal hospital built at a cost of $3.2 million by The Marine Mammal Center in Marin, Calif. until about September. Two other monk seal pups, Pua and Mele, were rehabilitated and plumped up at the hospital for six months last year, then transported back to Kure Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands with help from the U.S. Coast Guard. They were rescued last September as severely malnourished pups.
Wickham actually got a chance to observe them in the wild on this last 21-day voyage to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands aboard NOAA's Hi‘ialakai.
"They're doing really well, doing great," said Wickham, who added that seeing Pua and Mele healthy at home was the best reward.
Hawaiian monk seals are critically endangered, with a population of fewer than 1,100 remaining in the wild, according to NOAA. They are protected by both state and federal laws, and should be left in peace if resting on a shoreline. A growing number, between 150 to 200, are appearing on main Hawaiian isle shorelines like Maui, Kauai and Oahu. Volunteers from the Monk Seal Foundation help keep watch over them, and a few that used to visit Oahu shorelines regularly have not reappeared, including Kermit, Ewa Girl and M +M (nicknames).
Ke Kai Ola, a brand-new facility at NELHA, offers specialized pens and pools for the rehabilitation of Hawaiian monk seals, plus a fish kitchen, lab and office. The hospital welcomes help from volunteers in the community who want to help with its mission of helping save the critically endangered monk seals. Visit www.marinemammalcenter.org/hawaii to learn more.
Pua and Mele being released at Kure Atoll (By The Marine Mammal Center)