The 8-week-old female pups airlifted from the Northwest Hawaiian Islands could die if left to fend for themselves.
Undersize monk seal twin pups arrive in Honolulu to bulk up
Twin 8-week-old Hawaiian monk seals arrived in Honolulu yesterday to bulk up before being returned to their home in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands this fall.
The female pups were brought here because they are undersized and could die if left in the wild, said Robert Braun, contract marine veterinarian for the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.
The two females are only the fourth set of Hawaiian monk seal twins known to exist, and the first to survive so long, Braun said in a written joint news release from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service, the Coast Guard and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
"It will be a first if these twins survived and are successfully reintroduced back into the wild," Braun said.
The monk seal twins were born on Midway Atoll and were first seen with their mother on April 4, when they appeared to be a day or two old.
The twins appear to be healthy, but were undersized at weaning.
The pups arrived in Honolulu at 5:30 a.m. yesterday aboard a Coast Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft from Midway Atoll. The plane picked up the seals after dropping off marine debris removal crews.
Last year, crews recovered more than 42,000 pounds of debris, which can harm or kill the seals.
Monk seal mothers normally nurse their pups for about six weeks. After that, the pups must fend for themselves in an environment that includes competing with stronger, older seals for limited food and the risk of sharks preying on them, scientists have said.
NOAA Fisheries spokeswoman Wende Goo wouldn't say yesterday how much the twins weigh, how long they are, or where they are being kept on Oahu.
The Hawaiian monk seal is considered endangered and its population is at its lowest level in recorded history. Now numbering only about 1,200, their numbers are expected to fall below 1,000 within five years. Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is home to about 50 to 60 monk seals.
"Every monk seal pup is important to us," said Leona Laniawe, the NOAA biologist stationed on Midway Atoll. Hawaiian monk seals have been on the Endangered Species List since the 1970s.
"Despite efforts to prevent the extinction of the species, their numbers continue to decline, indicating we must do more to enhance their survival," said Bud Antonelis, a NOAA marine mammal scientist. "Through captive care efforts such as this, and with the collaboration of our partners, we hope these female twins will thrive and eventually raise their own pups at Midway Atoll."