Field Report: Summer

2017 pups are all weaned and tagged!

Monk Seal Pup RJ22-2All weaned pups this year are males (all three last year were females, born to the same moms at same locations!). RK30’s pup born along the Na Pali coast, is a nice big healthy weaner, now known as RJ36 (tagged J36/J37). We are grateful to Captain Tara Leota and Kauai Sea Riders for assistance to monitor and deliver the Kauai team to tag this pup.

RK22 weaned her pup RJ22 (tagged J22/J23) on the northeast coast and was found one morning entangled in in monofilament fishing line. Fortunately, while we were monitoring,  he was able to free himself from the fishing line. This demonstrates why it is so important to check the seals regularly–and to pick up marine debris whenever possible.

The last pup to wean, was RO28’s pup now known as RJ28 (tagged J28/J29). This pup remains on his natal beach while RJ22 has already started exploring more of the coast, moving south.

Seals of Concern Updates


Photo credit: Miyashiro.

RH92, juvenile female was translocated from Kapaa to PMRF in March. We are pleased to report that even though she returned to the Fuji Beach area she is no longer logging nor feeding on fish scraps in the canal. She continues to forage normally along the east coast and just finished her first molt.

Another yearling female, RH38, is getting ready to molt along the north shore, and we are monitoring her closely as her weight is low.

Unusual hook discovery


Photo credit: Thomton 

An unknown, untagged, clean adult male seal showed up on the south shore with a large J-hook stuck in his back. A second J-hook was attached with a metal leader and there was 17 feet of very heavy (400 lb) monofilament trailing. Coordinators were able to cut away all of monofilament and the dangling second hook.


Photo credit: Thomton

The remaining hook embedded in the skin is non-life threatening and will eventually come out on its own, however we will closely monitor this seal and intervene if necessary. Fishermen have informed us that the gear that hooked the seal is used to catch marlin by trolling behind a fast moving boat.

Meanwhile, in Waikiki

One of Kauai’s longtime breeding females, RH58 or “Rocky,” pupped on at Kaimana Beach in Waikiki on Oahu–and instantly became the darling of beachgoers. The mom and pup, a female, provided NOAA staff and volunteers with additional concern when they swam inside the Natatorium by way of an opening in its crumbling seawall. Eventually, once RH58 weaned her fat and healthy pup, the pup was relocated to a more remote location for her safety. As we’ve discussed here many times, young seals are most vulnerable right after weaning. This is a time they spend exploring their natal beach, learning what’s edible and what isn’t. At this age, they are quite curious and social, approaching other seals and, even, people on the beach and in the water as they go about figuring out how to survive as a seal on their own. For her safety, scientists decided to move RH58’s pup to a more remote location.

And at Midway Atoll

A mother monk seal bit a woman–an employee with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service–several times while the woman was swimming in the only section of water open for recreational use. The monk seal approached the woman from an adjacent beach where she had pupped. The woman remained on Midway to recover from her injuries. While this incident is extremely unfortunate, it is a good reminder that monk seals are wild animals and that each seal is an individual, each reacting differently to what might seem to be similar situations.



(P)update #9

Like we’ve shared before, one of the most crucial times of a monk seal’s life are those weeks after weaning. No longer fed by their mother, the weaner must discover on their own what’s edible and what’s not. Sometimes this involves ingesting some marine organism not typical of a monk seal’s diet, say a sea cucumber. Considered “generalists” by scientists, adult monk seals forage on the ocean floor, using their strong necks to flip over rocks at average depths of 200 feet and deeper, dieting on octopus, eel, flat fish, lobster, and squid.

But not weaners. For the first few months after weaning, they stick closer to shore.

Too, the business of finding food requires monk seals stick their faces in all kinds of nooks and crannies. Weaners seem to excel at this in their curious quest by trial and error to determine their food preferences. Unfortunately, weaners can sometimes run into dangerous situations this way. A few years ago, a young seal hauled out with a plastic ring around his muzzle. That same year, another youngster hauled out with a decaying plastic water bottle around his nose. Some have been found with plastic eel cones affixed to their faces. Last year, one of our volunteers discovered a pup playing with the plastic remains of such a hagfish/eel trap. Now, our oldest weaner of the 2017 pupping season ran into a wad of monofilament fishing line left behind at the beach. Luckily, he was able to disentangle himself from the line without intervention.


Here the monofilament line runs through his mouth and around his lower jar.


Note, too, the line around his body–above his fore flippers. 


A coiled section of line can also be seen alongside his body here, as well as, some by the mouth.


More line entangled in and around the face.


It’s hard to make out, but in addition to RJ22’s flipper, there’s wad of line in his mouth.

Our local Surfrider group of volunteers does an excellent job of cleaning up our Kaua`i beaches, and for this, we are most grateful. You can help, too, by collecting marine debris on your beach outings, as well as, at home, no matter where you live–by making different consumer choices to reduce plastic consumption. For ideas on how to do that, click here.

(P)update #8

Last week, on a sunny day, our second pup of the year graduated to “weaner” status and was tagged RJ36. After about six weeks of dedicated nursing, RJ36’s mother, RK30, weaned him and headed back to the nourishing depths of the ocean to replenish the approximate one-third body weight she lost during the nearly six weeks she nursed RJ36 to a healthy weaner weight in the neighborhood of 175 pounds.

While the procedure to tag monk seal weaners only takes about five minutes, the effort to tag this pup took much longer–all due to the remote location of where RK30 chose to birth.

For years now, the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Hui has been aided when accessing remote beaches by marine biologist Captain Tara Leota, sole owner-operator of Kauai Sea Rider Adventures. Captain Tara leads small groups of ecologically-minded guests on snorkeling adventures around Kauai. Captain Tara, her crew, and her guests welcomed our tagging team aboard her 25-foot rigid inflatable boat for the adventurous journey to find RJ36.

Currently, the way we track matriarchal lineage of monk seals is by visual observations of mothers and pups. As such, our goal is always to tag pups within days of their weaning. Once weaners start exploring other parts of the island and mixing with other monk seals, we cannot be sure of their lineage. Thus, Captain Tara has likely helped us know with surety the matriarchal lines of six or eight monk seals over the years. That’s a great effort.

Mahalo Kauai Sea Rider Adventures!

RJ36 (5) 7.19.17-2

Photo credit: V. Bloy

RJ36 (3) 7.9.17-2

Photo credit: V. Bloy

RJ36 tags 7.19.17-2

Photo credit: V. Bloy

Kauai Sea Riders Crew-2

Photo credit: V. Bloy

(P)update #7

Now, that PK1 is exploring the world on his own, our team was able to catch him and attach a pair of “temple” tags to his hind flippers. This will allow us to track him throughout his life. The color of the tag indicates where the animal was born. Red is used for all Main Hawaiian Island pups. The first letter indicates the year it was born. In this case, “J” for 2017. The two numbers that follow the letter are unique for each individual animal. Two tags are attached, one in the left flipper and the other in the right flipper, in case one breaks. And because the way the tags are numbered when they’re made, each seal gets an even and an odd number. However, we mainly refer to them by the even number.

Thus, from now on, PK1 will be referred to at RJ22.

At the same time that RJ22 was flipper tagged, measurements of length and axillary girth were taken, a tissue sample collected, and a micro-chip pit tag (much like the kind used with dogs and cats) was inserted. All this gets done in about five minutes. RJ22 reacted calmly throughout the entire effort. So much so that when the team finished, he rested calmly for about 10 minutes before heading to the water for a swim.

Here’s RJ22 with his new tags.

Monk Seal Pup RJ22-4Monk Seal Pup RJ22-6Monk Seal Pup RJ22-2Monk Seal Pup RJ22-5

(P)update #6

Over the holiday weekend, at 41 days of age, PK1 weaned! That is, his mother headed back to sea to replenish her lost energy stores. As you can see from this photo taken at 36 days of age, PK1 had almost surpassed his mother in girth–but not length. He’s got some growing to do for that.

RK22 and PK1 at 36 days oldFor the entirety of the 41 days since PK1’s birth, he has nursed, gaining weight and growing stronger. For that same nearly six weeks of time, his mother, RK22, has not fed. This is perfectly normal in monk seal’s life history.

RK22 has given her pup plenty of fat stores for him to spend the next few weeks and months figuring out where food really comes from–the sea. As you can see from this photo, PK1 is adjusting to life as a “weaner” with aplomb.

Weaner copy

(P)update #5

We have a third pup for 2017, arriving on Father’s Day to dedicated mother RO28. As she likes to do, RO28 spends most of her adult life on Oahu but chooses to pup on Kauai where she was born. ​She’ll spend the next five weeks or so here, ensuring her pup grows to a plump size. All the while, she’ll stick close to her pup’s side, and in doing so, drop approximately one-third her body weight. Eventually, hunger will drive her to sea to replace her lost energy stores.

Speaking of feeding, within an hour-and-a-quarter after emerging into this air-breathing world, PK3 was off to a healthy start in life by nursing. That’s really not too surprising. What is surprising is two of our dedicated volunteers got photos and video of the birth.


PC: S. Fafard


PC: S. Fafard

(P)update #4

PK1 is a boy! (That makes two for this year.) And he’s discovered his flippers, biting at them, flapping them, generally figuring out what they can do.

201706013 PK1 Discovers Flipper

PC: K. Rogers

RK22 continues to be a very protective mother, however she is now more comfortable being physically separated from her pup at times. On PK1’s 17th day of life, mom was observed logging in the water 50 feet away from PK1, while he was sound asleep on the beach. She was still keeping a close eye on him though. Also, several snorkelers reported being charged by RK22 while they were entering the water to swim. We do not advise swimming at any beach with a mom and pup pair present.


PC: J. Thomton