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