Field Report: Summer 2014

Banner pupping year on Kauai – 5 pups!

In addition to the previous pups reported (PK1, PK2 and PK3) two more pups were born on the north shore of Kauai. RH58, a well known and very successful mother gave birth to PK4 on June 28th. RK28, another proven mother gave birth to PK5 on July 16th.

Pups only spend around 40 days with their mothers, during which they gain massive amounts of weight from nursing. The typical pup is born at 35 pounds and gains between 100-150 pounds in a short 5-6 weeks! The mothers fast during this time and convert blubber into very rich milk (twice the calories of heavy whipping cream).

When the mother’s blubber is depleted they abruptly wean their pups by departing, usually at night, and do not return. The young pups are large, healthy and strong swimmers by this point and quickly learn to forage on their own. They are still very naïve, however, and can easily be taught to seek humans for food and company, so it’s crucial that we monitor these ‘weaners’ and make sure humans do not interfere with this critical developmental stage. Shortly after weaning, the pups are flipper tagged and given new permanent IDs, all of the pups born in 2014 were tagged as the ‘F’ cohort (i.e. RF22, the R identifies Main Hawaiian Island seals)

Meet the 2014 Kauai ‘F’ cohort:

RF22  Photo credit: Langley

RF22 male. Photo credit: Langley

RF28  Photo credit: Langley

RF28 male. Photo credit: Langley

RF30  Photo credit: Thomton

RF30 female. Photo credit: Thomton.

RF58  Photo credit: Langley

RF58 female. Photo credit: Langley.

PK5 Male.  Photo credit: Langley.

PK5 male. Photo credit: Langley

Off-Leash Dogs: Tragically, PK5 was killed by stray dogs when he was only two weeks old. The incident occurred during the night and was therefore not witnessed by our diligent pup-sitters. Tracks, blood, and injuries to four other seals, including PK5’s mom, indicated that the mother seals did their best to protect their pups. PK4 (now tagged RF58) had over 60 bite marks on her body and developed major abscesses around her neck. She immediately received medical attention and disease screening by a NOAA veterinary team, and fortunately healed quickly. Currently she is doing well and learning how to be an independent juvenile seal. Permanent neck scars will help us identify her, but pose no risk to her survival.

This was the first known monk seal death caused by a dog and a warning to all of us that we must keep our dogs on leashes (it is State law on all beaches) and strongly encourage everyone else to do the same.

If you follow the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program’s Facebook page you probably know about R1KU. She is the junenile female seal that was taken into captivity from Anini Beach on Kauai in February. At that time the seal was extremely thin and fighting an infection from an eye injury. She was transported to Oahu for surgical removal of a damaged, non-reparable eye to alleviate chronic pain and for rehabilitation to fatten her up. Several weeks later, she was released on the remote island of Niihau, where she was originally sighted in January. In May, we received a call from PMRF Navy base reporting a seal missing an eye, wearing a satellite tag and bleach marked, V1. That would be R1KU, who swam back to Kauai from Ni’ihau. We are pleased to report that she is in good body condition and her surgical site healing well! She has since remained on Kauai frequenting remote rocky sites and continues to look healthy.

monk seal

Photo credit: Mary Miyashiro

Pupping season is in full swing with three new pups on Kauai alone.

RK22 gave birth to a healthy male, temporarily known as PK1, on May 7th.

monk seal

Photo credit: Jamie Thomton

RO28 gave birth to a healthy male, temporarily known as PK2, on May 21st.

monk seal

Photo credit: Jamie Thomton

RK30 gave birth to a healthy pup, temporarily known as PK3 on May 29th.

monk seal

Photo credit: David Sutton

All three pups are doing well and their mother’s are proving to be highly protective, as is common with monk seals.

A word of caution: monk seal mothers can be extremely protective of their pups and therefore we recommend NO SWIMMING at the remote beaches where moms/pups are found. Further, males are usually found competing for access to mothers who will become receptive to breeding shortly after the 6 week nursing period. These males may also mistake swimmers for other competing male seals (they are very short-sighted, 30-40 feet), so again, we advise against swimming in these remote areas during pupping season.

We are currently tracking four other pregnant females that may pup on Kauai this year and look forward to sharing more pup photos with you in the future.

Field Report: Winter 2013

2013 Year in Review: 2,249 individual seal sightings were reported in 2013 for an average of 6.2 seals per day! Again, the tireless efforts of the volunteer network made this possible. The Hui identified 43 different seals including 2 pups that were born on the north shore last summer. We also identified 6 new seals that made visits from nearby islands, perhaps from Niihau, Ka’ula and Lehua rock. As reported previously, a number of seals were entangled with fish hooks in 2013. We are pleased to report that all seven hookings resulted in successful hook removal and recovery!

Photo credit: Langley

Photo credit: Langley

Weaners (weaned seal pups): Close monitoring of weaned seals continued through the 2013 season and as this photo indicates, pup RN44 has successfully learned to forage on his own. His body condition would be rated as extremely healthy. He was also bleach marked (using common human hair bleach) with the identifier V44. These bleach marks only bleach the fur and last until the next annual molt. In the meantime, this marking makes identification by beach goers, spear fishers, boaters, and volunteers much easier, especially if these curious young seals exhibit problematic behaviors such as approaching spear fishers or swimmers.

Molting: As we reported last year, winter is a time when many adult male seals

Photo credit: Honnert

Photo credit: Honnert

molt. Scroll down to learn more about this physiologically demanding process.  RK31 is currently undergoing his annual molt as shown in this photo. It is important to give molting seals space, so if you encounter a molting seal please encourage all beach users to “Let sleeping seals lie” or, in this case, molt!

Unknown visitor: In December an unknown sub-adult male seal was sighted on the north shore and immediately reported by one of our lead volunteers.

Photo credit: Langley

Photo credit: Langley

Typically unknown seals such as this only spend a few days on Kauai before disappearing again. Knowing this, we quickly organized a tagging team and successfully

flipper tagged this seal as R6AW and injected a small microchip tag (just like the microchips dogs and cats get). After tagging, this seal spent the remainder of the day resting on the beach, departed that evening and has not been re-sighted since. Later, during photographic analysis of unique scar patterns, this seal was matched with photos from previous fieldwork in the Lehua Rock/Niihau area.

Field Report: Summer 2013

2013 Pups on Kauai: 2013 has been a strong seal pupping year in the Main Hawaiian Islands with 20 pups born across Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Kaho’olawe, and the Big Island. Four of those pups were from first time mother seals. On Kauai, two pups were born on the North Shore, both to female seals that typically haul-out on Oahu, but come to Kauai to pup.

Photo credit: Kim Rogers

Photo credit: Kim Rogers

The first pup was identified as PK1 (Pup Kauai #1) until tagged after weaning as RN30. This male pup was born on May 11th to female RO28, a first time mom that was born at the same beach on Kauai in 2006. She turned out to be a very protective and vigilant mom successfully nursing PK1 for 40 days. As with all monk seals, moms permanently leave their pups at time of weaning, just as RO28 did, quickly returning to haul-out on Oahu just 3 days later.

The second pup was also a male, identified as PK2 until tagged as RN44 after weaning. The ‘R’ identifies these seals as Main Hawaiian Island monk seals, and the ‘N’ indicates that the pups are part of the 2013 cohort, the final two numerals are unique identifiers for each seal. PK2 was born on June 9th to an experienced mom RH58. This great mom is known for making big healthy pups, and PK2 was no different. After 39 days of nursing this pup’s waistline was nearly the same as his length!


Photo credit: NOAA/Jamie Thomton

Both pups are doing great and have been observed foraging together near their birth beaches. In addition to their flipper tags, both seals have been bleach marked (with human hair bleach) with allows identification from a distance, or underwater by snorkelers and divers. RN30 has a bleach mark “V30” on his right flank, and RN44 is marked as “V44” again on his right flank. These bleach marks are temporary and will last only until their first molt in approximately one year.

CritterCam research with National Geographic Continues on Kauai:

A monk seal research team from the Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center and National Geographic spent a week on Kauai during July in order to capture and instrument an adult male seal, RV18, with a suite of instruments. The primary instrument was the CritterCam that records video of life as seen through the eyes of a seal. The camera is mounted on the back of the seal, along with several tracking devices and an accelerometer. So far, the video has confirmed that monk seals are generalist foragers feeding primarily on small reef and bottom fishes and a variety of invertebrates. The cameras are also documenting that seals spend much time resting and sleeping underwater, coming to the surface to breathe every 10 to 20 minutes.

Photo courtesy of National Geographic Remote Imaging

Photo courtesy of National Geographic Remote Imaging

It’s Hawaiian monk seal pupping season!

Pupping season on Kauai has arrived with the first pup born to R028!  This 7 year old female, who spends most of her time on Oahu, recently returned to Kauai and delivered a healthy male seal pup on May 11th.  Generally, Hawaiian monk seals are known to return to their natal beach to have their pups.  In this case, RO28 was born on Kauai to RK06 in 2006 and is now a first time mom.  We are predicting several more pups on Kauai and as of May 22nd, 11 pups have been born in the Main Hawaiian Islands in 2013.

With pupping season in full swing, we are in need of new volunteers to assist with pup-sitting in addition to our regular duties of responding to seal haul-outs and strandings.  If you are interested, or know of other people that may be able to assist as volunteers, please let us know!!  Please call us at the Kauai Monk Seal Hotline (808) 651-7668 or email us at kauaiseals@gmail.org.

 Hooked Seals:

Photo credit: Mary Frances Miyashiro

Photo credit: Mary Frances Miyashiro

Hooked seal reports have continued on Kauai, with 6 successful de-hookings already this year.  RK13 was recently hooked as seen in this photo.  Kauai Marine Mammal Response Network staff and volunteers were able to cut free 50 feet of heavy monofilament line that posed an entanglement risk leaving the non-lethal hook lodged in the corner of her mouth.  Meanwhile, an Oahu de-hooking team was making preparations for a trip to Kauai, however, fortuitously RK13 dislodged the ulua circle hook on her own.

If you see a seal on a beach, please look closely for fishing line in or around the mouth and of course for hooks.  As always, please use binoculars and do not disturb the seal.  Often the hook is inside the oral cavity and the only evidence is a small amount of monofilament fishing line trailing from the mouth.  If you suspect the presence of a hook or line, please take photos and email them to kauaiseals@gmail.com.

Recently, the New York Times Magazine ran a front-page feature article about Hawaiian monk seals, it’s a must read.  Here’s the link:


2012 Year in Review: 2,556 individual seal sightings were reported in 2012 (many of the same animals on different days of course), or an average of 7 seals per day!  This was only possible due to the incredible efforts of the volunteer network.  The Kauai Monk Seal Conservation Hui identified 45 different seals on the beaches of Kauai during 2012, including 4 pups that were born on the beaches of Kauai in 2012.

Pupping Predictions for 2013!  Here are the predictions for 2013 provided by the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center staff.  There were several regular ‘moms’ that skipped 2012 (R015, R305, RY30, RS00, R006) so they can pup anytime and likely will pup earlier in the year rather than later. We could also be seeing some first time moms this year.

Seal ID Island Predicted Date
RQ21 Molokai 3/29
RV06 Molokai 3/31
RI15 Molokai 4/26
RK13 Kauai 5/9
RK22 Kauai 5/13
RH58 Kauai 6/4
RK30 Kauai 6/10
RO20 Oahu 6/28
RH44 Molokai 7/11
R308 Molokai 7/23
RO17 Molokai 8/5
RV16 Kahoolawe 7/7
R912 Oahu 8/9
R5AY Oahu 9/10

Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) Research on Kauai:

instrumented-sealThe Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) joined the Kauai crew in January for field work that included flipper tagging TempV19 (juvenile male) who is now tagged 8HY on the left rear flipper and 8HZ on right flipper.  His official ID is now R8HY.  Also, RW02 (adult male) was instrumented with a National Geographic Critter Cam which recorded 5 days of foraging and diving behavior (see photo below).  Click on this link to learn more about this program.


Stranding Responses to Hooked Seals:

As some of you may have heard, two seals were hooked with Ulua circle hooks in Hawaiian waters during February, one was a juvenile male RT12 here on Kauai.

RT12 was successfully de-hooked twice and released back in the wild.  Here is how it played out.  Thanks to an early report from one of our lead volunteers, we found RT12 hauled out with a circle hook in his mouth and 8 feet of fishing line trailing from it.  A team was immediately dispatched and RT12 was captured and hook removal attempted, however the hook went through the bottom side of the tongue with the barb imbedded in it.  This made either sedation or surgery necessary, therefore we loaded RT12 into a transport cage, brought him to Lihue where he spent the night at the baseyard until a veterinary team arrived from Oahu the next morning.  After sedating RT12, we found that the hook had now gone all the way through the tongue and into the left cheek.  The hook was cut in half, and easily backed out of the tongue and cheek.  The damaged tissue was swollen and slightly infected, but in good condition. It appeared that the hook was in his tongue for 24 to 36 hours, we were very fortunate to catch it so soon.

A satellite tracking tag was attached to track his dive behavior and movement.  RT12 was also given an antibiotic injection and then released.  Another lead volunteer sighted him sleeping comfortably on the rocks just south of the release location later that day.

hooked-t12To our great surprise, one week later, RT12 was discovered with another hook in his mouth!   A volunteer reported seeing 4-5’ of fine monofilament line coming from the mouth of RT12 again! Can you find the fishing line??

With the excellent assistance of many volunteers, the coordinators were authorized to mobilize an assessment team and equipment to capture, restrain, dehook and potentially transport the seal. Once we caught RT12, we found and removed one ”J” hook from his left front flipper. Unfortunately when we examined his mouth we discovered the additional line coming from his mouth with the hook out of sight, requiring sedation and surgical intervention to remove it.

Once more, RT12 was loaded into the transport cage to be watched overnight at the DLNR baseyard by the coordinators.  On the morning of Feb. 13, Dr. Michelle Barbieri arrived from Oahu and helped us transport RT12 to a local Veterinary Clinic on Kauai.  Under general anesthesia, radiographs revealed another one inch “J” hook in the esophagus.  With an endoscope, special instruments, and the expertise of two veterinarians, the hook was removed and RT12 was given antibiotics and his right rear flipper tagged T43 (he lost his T13 last year).  An hour later, RT12 was released again.

We are all very happy that this seal was discovered early and his ingested hook was removed, may he never again swallow another hook!  It is with much appreciation, that we thank all who work so hard to monitor and care for each of these endangered Hawaiian monk seals when they rest on our beaches.  It takes all of us working together for a bright future that we can share together.

hooked-seal-xrayThe other hooking had a less fortunate ending.  A juvenile male, RK68, from the Big Island died from ingesting a circle hook.  The links below provide the details:




Annual Seal Molting:  Winter is the season that most male Hawaiian monk seal’s molt.  At this time their testosterone levels are low and mature males undergo their annual molt. Both the hair and the epidermis are sloughed and replaced in this “catastrophic molt” that is similar to elephant seals, but unlike all other seals.  In the Hawaiian monk seal the actual observed molting period is about 10 days when the seal is seen ashore before and after the hair-skin sloughing period. The actual physiological process is probably much longer, and is a metabolically demanding time requiring the seal to rest long periods on shore and fast, that is why it is important to allow monk seals to rest peacefully while molting.  Also, documenting the timing and duration of molt is a good indicator for a seal’s health.

In the last two months, mature male seals R018 and RK31 molted primarily on the south shore, and for several days together at Poipu Beach Park, requiring extensive volunteer efforts to monitor and protect these seals.  Much outreach and education happened as well, while many visitors standing downwind of the seal noticed the strong “stinky” smell, due to the molt!  We so appreciate all the many essential volunteers that assisted to adjust the seal protection zones (SPZ’s) as the seals moved from the vegetation early in the morning down to the wave wash to thermoregulate in the day’s heat and back up to the vegetation line to spend the night!

Photo credit: Lynn Nowatzki

Photo credit: Lynn Nowatzki

RK31 90% molted (Molt  is estimated by % of molted skin remaining. Molt starts from the face and belly where it is rubbed off first).  Notice also circular pink wound from a fresh cookie cutter shark bite over the left hip.

Many people notice that the Hawaiian monk seals are different colors.  Freshly molted seals are a silvery gray with a lighter gray ventrally.  Some seals may be stained red by red dirt, more often seen in young juveniles that haul out to rest and hide on dirt and rock beaches. With time pelage ages to darker brown and hues of green appear around the face and flippers due to algae growth!  See in the photo below three males of various ages that are different colors due to when they molted.  RV18 is an adult that molted March 2012, RW02 is a subadult that molted Sept. 2012, and R8HY is a juvenile that just molted Jan.2013.

Photo credit: Gary Langley

Photo credit: Gary Langley


Field Report: Summer 2012

All four of our 2012 pups are successfully weaned, tagged, exploring, and mingling with other seals!

Credit: Langley

In early July, RL10, the oldest of the four, was relocated from her birth site at Aliomanu Road to the more remote sands of Waipake Beach on the northeast shore. Conveniently, her new site was near the birth sites of the other three pups! The relocation was done for RL10’s safety; Aliomanu was a hazardous location for several reasons, the main ones being proximity to the road and high human use. Mahalo nui loa to our veterinarian for flying over from Oahu to assist with this effort; to our Kupuna for her prayers, chants and elbow grease; to our volunteers for helping to execute the relocation; to vacation renters and property managers for granting us access through their properties; and to assorted members of the public for their spontaneous help. It takes a village to move a seal!

RL10’s mom, RK13, continues to be of concern. We are glad to report that she successfully molted at Mahaulepu Beach and has put on quite a few pounds since weaning RL10, but she is still thin. Now that the stressful process of molting is behind her, we’re hoping that she will start to gain more weight.

RL14’s mom, RK22, has been spotted several times on Kauai since weaning him. Her weight looks very good, she is 100% molted, and she was recently attended by adult male RK36 (of hook-swallowing fame, and still sporting his cell and satellite tracking tags) in the Anahola area.

RH58’s female pup was weaned on June 26, after 38 days of nursing; and was flipper tagged L17/L16, making her permanent ID number RL17. RH58 (a.k.a. “Rocky”) has traveled back to Oahu, her usual stomping grounds.

Credit: Langley

RK30’s male pup was weaned on July 10, after 45 days of nursing; and was flipper tagged L24/L25; giving him the permanent ID number RL24. Mom RK30 is in excellent condition and looks like she will begin her molt very soon. She was most recently observed at Salt Pond Beach Park, and was recently attended by Oahu adult male RO20 (a.k.a. “Kermit”.)

All four pups have still been observed in the Lepeuli/Waipake area, but the oldest three (RL10, RL14, and RL17) have occasionally left the area to explore new beaches to the north and south.

Juvenile female RK52 (“Rocky”’s 2011 pup) has spent most of the past year on the north shore between Ke’e and Tunnels, but has returned to her birthplace (Waipake) for her first molt. As of this writing, she is about 30% molted.

Credit: Lee

Juvenile male R6FQ began his molt several months ago, but has not completed it. Usually, monk seals only take about a week to lose their outer layer of fur and skin in their yearly “catastrophic” molt, but it’s not unheard of for a young animal to have a patchy molt like this. We are keeping a close eye on R6FQ (flipper tags 6FQ/6FO) to be sure his uneven molt is not a sign of a health concern.

It’s with sorrow that we report both the appearance and disappearance of a new seal to our island. Yearling male Temp V17 was first seen this summer on the east shore of Kauai, and given the bleach number “V17” by our DLNR specialist on June 15. On July 30, Temp V17 was found dead in the Wailua area. Local fishermen reported the carcass and graciously led us through blessings and prayers for the seal on the beach before we removed the carcass. Necropsy did not reveal a clear cause of death, but no evidence of human interaction was observed.


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