It’s officially spring which means that Hawaiian monk seal pupping season has begun! So far this year our annual partner, Hawai’i Marine Animal Response (HMAR), has already had three pups born on Oʻahu.
Hawaiian monk seals are an endangered species, with only 1,570 left in the world, so each new pup is very important for the survival of the species. Hawaiian monk seals reach maturity at around 5 years of age in the main Hawaiian Islands. Monk seals mate in the water and are pregnant for about 11 months. When they give birth, they do so on land, typically on the beach they were born at. When the pup is born, they weigh about 25-30 pounds and measure about 3 feet long. However, they don’t stay that way for too long! Moms stay with their pups constantly for 4-7 weeks – nursing, swimming, and resting on the beach. Over that time the pup gains about 120 pounds. But, because mom is with her pup constantly, she doesn’t have the time to go forage and find food for herself; and since she is nursing, she is consistently giving away her fat storages. Therefore, moms and pups are only together for 4-7 weeks, by the end mom needs to go out and find herself some food, therefore leaving her pup behind to begin fending for itself. From this point on the pup will learn how to hunt as well as live on its own. This process of mom leaving is called weaning and afterwards there is no family connection between mom and pup. And dad? He never played any role past mating, never meeting his pup.
So far in 2023, HMAR has 3 pups on O’ahu. Typically pup season begins in March and ends in September, but they got an early start this year with their first pup born on January 28th. This pup, named Uʻi Mea Ola (meaning beautiful survivor), is a special one for HMAR. Her mom, Kaimana was born in 2017 on Kaimana Beach in Waikiki, the first monk seal on record ever born in Honolulu proper. After she was weaned by her mom, Kaimana was relocated to a quieter part of the island to grow up away from human influence. Uʻi is Kaimana’s first living pup, and her birth is a great success and end to a 6-year long story. Since monk seals normally return to the beach they were born at to give birth, Kaimana giving birth at her relocation site was important and exciting!
Pup season will continue throughout the summer and into the fall! HMAR posts about the pups born on Oʻahu on their social media platforms. If you want to follow along throughout the season you can follow them on Facebook and Instagram at @hawaiimarineanimalresponse. We will certainly be checking in to hear how they’re getting on!