Entry written by Claudia Mischler, Biological Science Tech Volunteer on Laysan Island, summer 2012, week of August 5th. Photo: Claudia Mischler
Funny how occasionally we push through a day, feeling frustrated and defeated by the fact that everything seems to be going wrong. Sometimes though, by the end of it all, we realize that it was actually one of the best days of our life. This past Thursday was one of those days.
Lightning had delayed me from going out to do my monk seal check by three hours. I was sure that I would not get to go at all. But when the skies finally cleared at 1500 hours, I jumped out of my tent and was on my way to walk around the island in the four or five hours left of daylight. I chugged along, checking on all the lovely juveniles, moms and pups, and sweet weaners. There were lots to check, and so progress was slow so I felt like I was never going to make it back to camp in time before dark.
I eventually came to an area called the mounds, where I was to look for a pregnant female who might give birth. I saw a fat female haul out of the water and make her way into the vegetation, and wondered if that was her. I could not remember the number of the seal I was supposed to look for, and felt rather rushed to keep going. But there was a persistent little voice in my head that encouraged me to open my notebook and check the number. After ignoring this rather annoying voice for a few minutes, feeling eager to move on, I eventually gave in and checked my book. I realized I was not looking for the seal that had just hauled out in front of me, but that I had actually just passed the potential mom a few hundred yards earlier. So I ran back to her, and checked to see if her nipples had popped out - a sure sign that a pup will be born soon. Her nipples were out, and when I looked more closely, the pup was also well on its way to being born! I ran back to my backpack to get my camera, and hid a long distance away from her to watch this wonderful event that was about to take place right in front of my eyes.
She tossed and turned for about 15 minutes, lying on her back, then on her side, and on her back again. She could not get comfortable. By rolling around, I could see that the pup’s flippers were out - the poor thing was being born backwards! I feared for her and the pup’s safety, wondering if everything would go as it should, or if this would end in a disaster. But I waited - she is a 20 year old seal after all, and has had much experience giving birth.
Another 15 minutes went by, and she started to push. Three pushes is all it took and the pup was out. The little black baby had its eyes open and was moving around immediately, as if it had been on earth for a week already. Mom called to it, smelled it, and eventually the baby called back. It was also given a warm welcome by the flies - it had a cloud of them hovering around it after about 10 seconds of breathing. Welcome to Laysan!
Tears flowed down my cheeks, happy tears. I knew that everything that had happened during the course of the day - the lightning, the number of seals I resighted, the female that crossed my path inspiring me to take out my notebook - was not a coincidence. I was meant to see this birth. And so I stayed and watched the mom and pup pair for a while, seeing the bond between them develop. The baby tried to figure out how to nurse, and after much help and patience from mom, it succeeded.
Besides watching the albatross chicks take their first flight, this birth is definitely one of the highlights of my time here. I will never forget it. And it was a nice reminder that even the days that seem unfair and gloomy offer something positive. We just have to open our eyes and be patient until we see it.