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Field Report: April 2018

 

Sightings:

The Kauai team logged 303 seal sightings this month. This included 30 individually identified seals.

April: 303
March: 299
Feb: 259
Jan: 336

New:

  • RK13 gave birth to PK1 on 4/20/2018. Extensive monitoring was immediately set-up and continues. Unfortunately, the location is notorious for off-leash dogs and past conflict between beach users and the monk seal program. Thus far, only minor issues have risen. Pup continues to thrive.
  • RK52 gave birth to stillborn female pup. This was RK52’s first birth. Carcass was sent to Oahu for necropsy.

Updates:

  • NG00 was re-sighted once this month and is likely still hooked. (See previous monthly updates for background.)
  • Poipu Keiki Pool: 2 displacements took place this month.
  • Bleach markings: 2 seals bleach marked this month.
  • Molting activity: one seal continues to molt this month.

Research/Support of Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center:

  • Sub-sampled scat, molt, and tissue plug samples.
  • Logged all seal sightings. Thomton organized photos and reported sightings, molt tallies, survival factors to send to PIFSC.

 

PK1 is 3.5 weeks old today, and he’s healthy-looking, active, and spending more and more time swimming. His routine of late finds him exploring the nearshore waters in the mornings and sleeping on the sand in the afternoons. Such is the life of a young Hawaiian monk seal pup.

Here’s a sweet sequence of images of PK1 and his mom RK13. You can also see how mom is losing weight, the natural course of a nursing monk seal mom’s biology. Her rib and shoulder bones are starting to become visible. She basically fasts the entire time she nurses her pup–all the while he packs on the pounds. Eventually, hunger will drive her to the sea to forage, at which point, he’ll be weaned.

Now, enjoy the slide show. (Photo credit goes to Jamie Thomton.)

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And now for the big gender reveal: The pup born on April 20th is a boy.

Mom (RK13) and pup (PK1) are doing great. Pup is growing stronger, and the two are swimming farther. They’ve even started to swim outside their large enclosure but for now continue to return to it to haul out, rest and nurse. But likely, not for long. As pup enters week three, he and mom will swim and explore more, notching total swim times of four to five hours a day. Soon, we’ll switch up their enclosure to a more portable one utilizing mesh fence panels. This can make for a busy time for our volunteers.

But there are interesting things to observe, as well, in pups of this age. Soon, he’ll start his first molt, losing his shiny black natal coat. Typically, it starts with the muzzle, face, chest, neck, and sides.

When pup wants to eat, he’ll vocalize and maybe even nip at mom to get her to roll over, so he can access her teats. Here’s an interesting factoid: The bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus) (Mohr, 1952) and the monk seal are apparently the only phocids having four functional teats. Those four are apparently getting good use with PK1. Let’s run some numbers: Say PK1 weighed 25 pounds at birth. And let’s say mom weans him at five weeks when pup weighs 150 pounds. That means pup is gaining 25 pounds per week. Or 3.5 pounds per day. Maybe more.

Little is known about Hawaiian monk seal milk. Much is inferred from other seal species. Like the fact that milk composition changes throughout the course of lactation. A newborn needs more water than fat. Whereas, an older pup can derive water metabolically from fat stores, a newborn can only obtain water by ingesting its mothers’ watery milk. As a pup ages, its mother’s milk fats increase while the water content decreases.

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As pup starts swimming more, he’s also started exploring his surroundings on land. Unfortunately, this can include rubbish and marine debris on the beach. Some time between weeks three and four, pup’s teeth will start to erupt through his gums.

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As is often the case whenever a pup is born, some males have been visiting the scene, as well. Here’s a video of RK13’s response to a curious male (R330). It’s fair to say that this is the same way she’d respond to a person or a loose dog who gets too close to her, as well–and in the water, she’s much more swift and agile. A mother’s tenancy is protect her pup is strong and why we encourage people and their pets to give monk seal mamas plenty of space.

Speaking of videos, here’s one taken of a Hawaiian monk seal weaner with a knife in his mouth. This was taken in April off Hawaii Island. While this pup was uninjured and the knife eventually retrieved by a DOCARE officer, it’s a good reminder to properly dispose of trash. However, there are other ways dangerous items may accidentally make their way to the shoreline, such as during the recent heavy rains and flooding on Kauai, making beach cleanups all the more important for humans and animals.

Monk Seal and Knife from Hawaii DLNR on Vimeo.

RK13andPK1aOur “old girl” RK13 with the blind left eye up and surprised everyone on Friday when she decided to pup at a location she’s never pupped at before! (Just when we think we know the ways and habits of these seals, they up and do something new and different–even “old” ones!) In weeks prior, RK13 was looking very pregnant, so her new pup was expected, just not her chosen location. However, she chose a good spot, considering the  rainstorms and flooding of late. For mom’s and pup’s safety, the exact beach location is not being publicized at this time. The (P)update is that young one is healthy, and mom took to nursing and protecting it right away! She has plenty experience, after all.

The biggest concern for this mother/pup pair are loose dogs, which have attacked attacked seals and pups in this location before. That said, volunteers are needed to gently and respectfully reach out to folks who may have their dogs off-leash. During the first few weeks the pup is small and slow moving, so dogs are a very real threat to the pup, and Hawaii state law is very clear–all dogs must be leashed at all times on state lands. Later, once the mom and pup start swimming, outreach and focus will shift to humans swimming in the area, as mothers are very protective and often view swimmers as threats to their pups.

RK13andPK1bIf you are a trained volunteer and would like to get back in the pup-sitting fold, please call our hotline at 808-651-7668. And if you have never volunteered before but would like to start now, call the same number. Volunteers are always needed and greatly appreciated.

(If you’d like to know more information about RK13, scroll down to the bottom of this post where it says, “Posted in” and click on “RK13.” That will return every report of RK13 every made on this website. Happy reading!)

Field Report: March 2018

If you’ve heard about the storm that Kauai weathered over the weekend, some of you may be wondering about our Hawaiian monk seals. (If you haven’t heard about the storm, you can read more about it here.)

The Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui does not deploy volunteers to dangerous situations–during storms or otherwise–and didn’t yesterday, either; however, the general public reported four seals hauled out on southern and western shores yesterday. They were all reported to be fine. The brunt of the storm hit Kauai’s north shore. Obviously, monk seals are marine mammals and are much better adapted to handle rising waters than we mere humans.

Now, for the March Field Report:

Sightings:

The Kauai team logged 299 seal sightings this month. This included 30 individually identified seals.

March: 299
Feb: 259
Jan: 336
Dec: 270
Nov: 239
Oct: 225
Sep: 354

New

  • AF (Adult/Female) R376 was observed on Poipu Beach with bait trailing from her mouth and with a significant loss of weight since her previous sighting six weeks prior, suggesting she’d ingested a fish hook. With 13 volunteers assisting, a trained response team crowded her into transport carrier, and she was moved to DOFAW baseyard in Lihue to await arrival of an Oahu veterinary team. A fish bone was discovered to be lodged in her mouth. It was removed, she was given antibiotics and released at Poipu Beach by the end of the same day. Read more about this swift and successful response here.
  • JF (Juveniile/Female) R7AA hauled out onto the shoulder of the road near Brenneckes in Poipu. A visitor called the hotline, and later the seal was displaced into the water and away from the road entirely.
  • Several reports of dogs chasing seals off the beach at Maha’ulepu were reported to the hotline. No seal injuries have been reported. DOCARE has been alerted.
  • A report was made from a fisherman of a seal dead in a net 3.5 miles outside Nawiliwili Harbor. USCG provided vessel support to investigate and possibly retrieve. A large bill fish, not a seal, was found entangled in a large cargo net, partially eaten by sharks.

Updates on previously reports:

  • NG00 is likely still hooked and was not sighted this month. SM (Small/Male) Sighted on Niihau in January. Photos match pictures sent in last September by fisherman of a hooked seal along Kaumakani on Kauai. Seal presents in good condition. Since hook is not life threatening, the Kauai response team will attempt to de-hook him the next opportunity that presents itself.
  • Poipu Keiki Pool: no displacements took place this month.
  • Bleach markings: 3 seals bleach marked this month.
  • Molting activity: no seals molted this month.

Research/Support of Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center:

  • Subsampled serum samples from R376 for PIFSC and shipped to Oahu.
  • Sub-sampled scat, molt, and tissue plug samples.
  • Logged all seal sightings. Organized photos and reported sightings, molt tallies, survival factors and sent to PIFSC.
RB00_01

A young RB00 shortly after acquiring flipper tags.

The female monk seal with the red flipper tags of B00 and B01 is so elusive that she’s never once been mentioned in the nearly 10 years of reports on this website. Now, having pieced together 10 years of her life, we finally have a story about her, and we’re devoting today’s entire post to her. For such an elusive Hawaiian monk seal, this has turned out to be a lengthy report.

On April 28, 2007, the now famous* RH58, also known as “Rocky,” gave birth to a female on one of Kaua‘i’s North Shore beaches. The pup sported a natural bleach mark at birth across her rump in the shape of a heart. As she’s aged, the heart has become more salt and pepper, but it’s visible after she molts. Because of the heart shape, she was nick-named by some “Pu`uwai.” However, some also refer to her as “Boo Baby,” because of her flipper tags—B00. In the official scientific record, however, she’s RB00.

 

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Once RB00 weaned, she took off and was rarely seen. Her NOAA file is fairly thin. Her 10 years of her sightings reports only run about 10 lines.

·      2007: In October, RB00 was instrumented with a satellite tag as part of a study to track the movements of weaned pups and juveniles in the Main Hawaiian Islands.
·      2009: She was sighted twice, both at the same beach on the southeast side of Kaua‘i.
·      2011: In January, she was hazed off a net debris pile on Kaua‘i to avoid possible entanglement. Then, she started popping up on O‘ahu. For the year, she was sighted a total of 8 times between Kaua‘i and O‘ahu.
·      2012: Sighted 15 times between Kaua‘i and O‘ahu.
·      2013: RB00 kept heading southeast and turned up Moloka‘i, recording only one sighting for the year.
·      2014: RB00 backtracked to Kaua‘i where she was sighted twice.
·      2015: RB00 logged five sightings in this year, including on Kaua‘i, Moloka‘i, and Maui.
·      2016: In January, RB00 was observed with a dead newborn pup on a remote part of Maui. This was the first confirmed pup for her. After a partial field necropsy, it appeared the full-term male was a stillbirth. Then, it appears RB00 continued moving southeast, because she logged a record 33 sightings for the remainder of the year, almost all on Hawai‘i Island.
·      2017: The sightings slowed back down to five, all on Hawai‘i Island and Maui.

As you can see from RB00’s history, Hawaiian monk seals can and do travel far and wide. But then this year, on January 6, 2018, RB00 notched another island to her portfolio. She was found on a remote beach on the island of Lāna‘i with a healthy female pup that was estimated to be anywhere from one to three days old. The timing of the birth also meant RB00 had provided us with the first Hawaiian monk seal pup of the year in the Main Hawaiian Islands.

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PC: Pūlama Lānaʻi Natural Resources Department

RB00 nursed her pup for a whopping six-and-a-half to seven weeks before weaning. Pup was given a permanent ID of R00K and outfitted with red flipper tags reading K100 and K101. She was also microchipped and vaccinated for morvillivirus.

It just so happens the the ex-Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Coordinator, Dr. Rachel Sprague, is the Wildlife Biologist with Pūlama Lānaʻi Department of Natural Resources  and her team monitored mom and pup throughout. Dr. Sprague also shared these anecdotes about her:

·      R00K is the first monk seal pup ever tagged on Lanai, so she is the first monk seal that wherever she goes, it will be known that she is from this island. She is very cute, fat, energetic, and curious.

·      Unlike some monk seal pups, this one didn’t just follow her mom around, but would go into the water first and head off swimming, or go exploring down the beach and mom would have to follow her (or bellow at the pup and she would go flopping back to mom).  Quite a few times, the pup would flop all over her mom and want to go swimming, so mom would follow and lie with her head underwater while the pup played around in the water (mom would pop her head out of the water to take a breath occasionally, and then put it back underwater).  Staff with kids or nieces/nephews would say “I know how mom feels!  Sometimes you ‘can’t even’ and need to just sit with your head underwater for as long as possible so you don’t have to deal and can get some peace and quiet.”

·      When we would go down to the beach to check on her and mom, she was most often swimming in the water, flippers flopping around above the surface while she messed with some sea cucumber or something else on the bottom.  We saw her multiple times on the beach and in the water spending time biting and playing with pieces of marine debris/marine plastics – she is very curious.

·      She is also very very fat! Her mom did a great job of nursing, so she is on the fatter end of weaned pups. She will use all that fat to live off of as she learns to find food for herself and ranges farther.  When we were trying to tag her, we had to wait for about 4 ½ hours in the blowing sand because she was having a great time swimming and wouldn’t come out of the water where we could tag her.

 

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Once pup weaned, Dr. Sprague conducted outreach at the local Lāna‘i schools, sharing photos and video of mom and pup. With the aid of Hawaiian cultural advisor, the kids selected four nicknames for the pup. These names were then presented at a community event and the entire island commuity voted on a the seal’s nickname.

R00K’s nickname is `Imikai. It translates to English as “ocean seeker.” Seems quite appropriate for a Hawaiian monk seal and, especially, an offspring of the widely traveled RB00.

The Pūlama Lānaʻi Department of Natural Resources kindly provided us with these many photographic images and video of mom and pup.

*RH58 “Rocky” made national headlines last summer when she gave birth to a pup nicknamed “Kaimana” on a beach in Waikiki.

Here’s a recently developed fact sheet on toxoplasmosis, a significant disease threat to the survival of Hawaii’s endangered Hawaiian monk seal. More information can be found here. Additionally, a public forum is being held this Saturday, March 31st on Oahu to address the concerns and impacts of toxoplasmosis to Hawaii’s wildlife and public health. Dr. Michelle Barbieri, the Wildlife Veterinarian Medical Officer with the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program, and Angela Amlin, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Coordinator, are both on the panel. Scroll down for more information.

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