Hawaii reopens popular Waikiki beach after endangered monk seal pup weans
May 30, 2023, 2:33 PM
HONOLULU (AP) — A young Hawaiian monk seal has weaned and relocated, allowing a stretch of a popular Hawaii beach to reopen Tuesday after it was made off-limits to protect the endangered pup while it nursed.
Hawaii officials last month cordoned off a large stretch of a popular Waikiki neighborhood beach to protect the seal mother, named Kaiwi, and her days-old pup, named Pualani. State conservation and and resources enforcement officers kept around-the-clock watch.
The birth of an endangered seal at one of Hawaii’s most popular tourism hubs highlighted the tension between protecting the islands’ fragile ecosystems and maintaining access to the pristine white-sand beaches that attract millions of visitors each year.
Kaimana Beach is next to a mid-sized hotel and is a favorite swimming and sunbathing spot for locals and visitors. Starting six years ago, monk seals have occasionally given birth there, setting the stage for conflict between seal mothers and beachgoers.
Authorities took extra care after a California tourist got too close to a mother-pup pair last year, and was pulled underwater by the mother, leaving cuts on the 60-year-old visitor’s face, arms and back.
Officials have cordoned off part of Kaimana Beach when pups were born before, but the protected area this spring was much larger.
Monk seal mothers are protective of their nursing pups. Authorities said it would be best if swimmers frequented one of Oahu’s many other shorelines until the pup weaned.
After weaning over the holiday weekend, Pualani was relocated to an undisclosed location.
Pualani was the fourth pup born at Kaimana Beach since 2017. “Future births and pre-weaning periods there will likely prompt a resumption of a broad cordon and a 24-hour … overwatch,” the state Department of Land and Natural Resources said in a statement.
Fewer than 1,600 Hawaiian monk seals remain in the wild and it is a felony to disturb them.