STAR-BULLETIN / 1999
A tourist passes by a monk seal resting on a Kauai beach. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources recently hired Michele "Mimi" Olry (not pictured) as its new conservation coordinator. Among Olry's responsibilities is creating buffer zones between people and Hawaiian monk seals on Kauai's beaches.
State gets new
Potential monk seal births
this summer means immediate
work for Michele Olry
LIHUE » Hawaii's endangered monk seals have a new conservation coordinator.
Among Michele "Mimi" Olry's responsibilities is the task of creating buffer zones between people and monk seals on Kauai's beaches. She will also be part of the conservation efforts to help sea turtles and other marine mammals.
Olry was hired for the position, which had been vacant for about a year, by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, with funding from the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Kauai, along with Niihau, is home to most of the 50 or so Hawaiian monk seals sighted by researchers on Hawaii's main islands. Hawaiian monk seals are an endangered species with a population of only about 1,300 living primarily in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
"It's great to get a chance to work with so many wonderful people who care about Kauai's wildlife," Olry said. "I appreciate the support I've been getting from everyone all over the island."
A graduate of California Polytechnic State University and University of California-Davis, Olry spent much of her childhood on Kauai before moving to the West Coast to attend school.
The state pushed to fill the post, in part, to better prepare for potential seal births this summer and fall, said Jeff Walters, co-manager of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
As many as four female seals living on Kauai are suspected of being pregnant this year, Walters said. Two seals were born on the island last year.
Seals sometimes "haul out" onto the beach to rest after feasting in the ocean. But a seal will spend a longer time on the beach if they have arrived to molt or give birth.
Molting -- during which the seal sheds its outer layer of skin -- generally means a stay of about a week to 10 days.
After giving birth, mother seals and their pups generally need about six weeks to nurse on the beach.
Toward the end of that nursing period, the pair can become quite active, moving up and down the beach -- complicating the buffer-creating process, Walters said.
Last year, a 64-year-old tourist was bitten by a Hawaiian monk seal when he tried to move the mammal out of his way while swimming toward the shore in front of the Sheraton Kauai Hotel.
"We know that closing off even small portions of a popular beach can cause problems for the community, so we are doing our best to develop a plan that minimizes any inconveniences that another pupping event might cause," said Chris Yates, NOAA Pacific Islands Regional Office's marine mammal branch chief.