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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, February 2, 2008

Seal returns to stomping grounds

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

A Hawaiian monk seal named Chester scratches his head at Flag's Beach in Kailua during his four-week-long stay. Monk seals usually molt for only a week, but Chester made an extended stay of it.

Advertiser library photo

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What: Marine Mammal Response Volunteer Training

Opportunities: 6-8 p.m. Feb. 26, 'Ewa Beach Library

  • 6-8 p.m. Feb. 28, Waikiki Aquarium

  • 6-8 p.m. Feb. 29, Kailua Recreation Center

  • 10 a.m. to noon March 1, Waimea Falls Park

    Call: 944-2269 for reservations

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    Chester the monk seal, who spent a month on Kailua Beach shedding his old fur, has returned to a normal routine including nightly feeding and basking in the sun at his favorite spots in Honolulu.

    The "teenage" mammal gained celebrity status in Kailua as he stretched out a normal weeklong molting period into four weeks, including one week of just lying on the beach. During the process, the animal stayed on shore, going without food the entire time.

    Chester, called that because of a distinct scar on his chest, returned to the water last week, bringing a sigh of relief to all the volunteers who had been watching him 24 hours a day. The monk seal is an endangered species, hence an around-the-clock watch to keep the curious and mischievous away.

    He disappeared from Kailua Beach last week but was spotted in Lanikai, Waimanalo, Iroquois Point and Sand Island, said David Schofield, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration marine mammal response network coordinator.

    "We figured that he was probably moving back to this side of the island, but we couldn't be sure, so everybody is just relieved to know he's back," Schofield said. "He's known to be around 'Ewa Beach, Barbers Point, Sand Island and maybe Diamond Head every once in a while. And he occasionally goes back to Kaua'i."

    Chester has only a small clump of old fur left and appears to be healthy and regaining the 100 pounds he lost during the molt, Schofield said. The seal is back into a daily routine of swimming and fishing from early evening until morning and hauling out during the day, Schofield said.

    Schofield credits volunteers for providing a safe and undisturbed environment for Chester, but more needs to be done to protect the endangered species, he said. Volunteer classes are scheduled, and two bills working their way through the state Legislature would also help, Schofield said.

    Senate Bill 2465 and House Bill 2625 would establish a Monk Seal Day in April.

    Senate Bill 2464 and House Bill 2626 would make the monk seal the state mammal, he said. With only 1,200 monk seals in the island chain and 100 in the main islands, the animal faces extinction.

    Bringing awareness like Hawai'i did when it made the humpback whale its state marine mammal could help save the monk seal, Schofield said.

    "The humpback whale population is increasing at about 7 percent per year ... the monk seal population is decreasing at 4 percent per year," he said. "Having the monk seal be the state mammal would help to raise awareness for the plight of the monk seal."

    Schofield wants residents to write to their legislators asking them to support the bills.

    Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com.