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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Monk seal spending time on Hawaii beach

Photo galleryPhoto gallery: Monk seal takes up digs at Kailua beach
Video: Monk seal molting on Kailua beach

By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

A pair of spectators watch a beached monk seal on Kalama Beach. The 350-pound critter is likely to take up new quarters this weekend. See more photos and a see a video.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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  • Do not disturb, feed, pursue or otherwise approach seals they are wild and may bite if disturbed. Also, harassing a seal could result in a hefty fine.

  • Remain out of sight if possible.

  • Stay at least 100 feet from seals.

  • Keep dogs away from seals, as contact may transmit diseases.

    For more information, go to the Pacific Island Fisheries Center at www.pifsc.noaa.gov.

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    A teenage monk seal that has been on a Kailua beach since New Year's Day is expected to scoot away sometime this weekend, sporting a new coat of fur.

    The seal, dubbed Chester for a scar on his chest, has given Kailua residents and visitors a rare, close-up view of seal molting, the annual process in which seals lose their fur, patches at a time.

    Since Chester is an endangered Hawaiian monk seal, people aren't allow to get too close to him. But for a handful of residents who came out yesterday to see the seal, a yellow-tape boundary perimeter around Chester put them more than close enough.

    "It's amazing," said Linda Voellmy, a Kailua resident who has been watching Chester since he came ashore. "It's so educational."

    Voellmy, who called Chester "sort of like a beach mascot," has lived in Kailua for 37 years and said she has never seen a Hawaiian monk seal come onto a beach in the area to molt.

    David Schofield, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration marine mammal response network coordinator, said many Kailua residents echoed the comment.

    "Once in a while they do pick a more popular beach (to molt)," he said. "What is more unusual is a seal choosing Kailua."

    The spectacle of Chester on the well-used Kalama Beach is even more rare considering there are only about 1,200 Hawaiian monk seals left in the wild, about 100 of which stay in the main Hawaiian Islands.

    The Monk Seal Response Team, made up of volunteers, has kept watch over Chester 24 hours a day since shortly after he came ashore. A daytime watch was extended to around-the-clock after some kids reportedly bothered the seal one night.

    Brooke Scharrer, a volunteer with the team who has spent several nights on the beach to keep Chester safe, said the kids were banging sticks in the seal's face to get him to move.

    It is a federal offense to get too close to a monk seal.

    Chester is expected to be finished molting Saturday.

    Though the seal has been ashore for 16 days, he only started molting four days ago, Scharrer said. The process in which monk seals shed old fur for a new coat usually takes eight days.

    While he is molting on the beach, Chester doesn't eat.

    At his full size, he could weigh up to 450 pounds.

    Now, he is much skinnier by as much as 100 pounds.

    Schofield said scientists in the Islands have been tracking Chester for about seven years. The seal spends most of his time between Diamond Head and Kalaeloa. Last year, Chester molted on a remote spot in 'Ewa Beach, Schofield said.

    Reach Mary Vorsino at mvorsino@honoluluadvertiser.com.