State asks public to stay away from seal pup

By Justin Fujioka
Published On: Dec 20 2013 04:42:05 PM HST

Monk seal U'ilani

HONOLULU -

Stay away. That's what the state wants you to do if you see a baby Hawaiian monk seal that's been frequenting harbors on Oahu's south shore.

Uilani is a 7-month-old Hawaiian monk seal that was born near the Reef Runway in May.

"This seal, because it's a female and it's born here, it represents a huge opportunity or potential for giving birth in the future," said state Department of Land and Natural Resources chairperson William Aila, Jr. on Friday.

Reproduction is key for the recovery of the endangered species, which is protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Hawaii State Law.

But the pup is living a risky lifestyle and hanging out at some busy spots.

Uilani has been spotted at Keehi, Kewalo and at Ala Wai harbor, where just two weeks ago, there was a report of someone feeding the pup.

"We want to remind the public that interacting with the seals or feeding the seals or even making eye contact is detrimental to the behavior and survival of the seal," said David Schofield, Marine Mammal Health and Response Program Manager for the NOAA Fisheries Service, Pacific Islands Regional Office.

He said interaction like that has actually caused the naturally docile mammal to become aggressive in the past.

Their personality is usually formed during their first year of life.

"They can either go on a pathway of going out to the wild and being wild, or if during that time they interact with people, that's when this habituation and conditioning starts and from there they can evolve into adulthood as being quote, problem seals," Schofield said.

Signs are going up to warn people to leave Uilani alone.

Harassing a Hawaiian monk seal is a felony that comes with a fine up to $50,000 and up to five years in jail.

"We don't want to go there," Aila said. "We would prefer that everybody adopts some responsibility towards monk seals in Hawaii and do the right thing."

The state is encouraging all harbor users stay at least 150 feet away from seals. If one approaches you, ignore it and move away. Also, try not to clean fish in the water because it might attract them.

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