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Field Report: July Update

Monthly Update:
The Kauai team logged 35 individually identified seals on Kauai in July for a grand total of 414 seal sightings this month. This equates to over 13 monk seals sighted and reported per day.

June: 315
May: 332
April: 302
March: 299

New:

  • RH58 “Rocky” gave birth to male pup PK5 on 7/16/18.
  • A pup switch occurred for the first time on 7/20/18. RH58’s pup PK5 was forcefully taken by another mother RO28 who left her female pup PK4 alone on the beach. The Kauai team successfully reunited the correct moms with pups later that day. Another pup switch occurred on 8/2/18 when RH58’s pup PK5 was seen with another mother RK28 who had left her male pup PK3. Again, RH58 was alone but searching and calling for her pup. The Kauai team attempted to reunite the correct mothers to pups on 8/3/18. RK28 quickly took her pup PK3 back, however, RH58 rejected her pup and became aggressive toward him. The pup was left on the beach overnight in hopes that RH58 would reunite naturally. On 8/4/18, RH58’s pup PK5 was again found with RO28 at sunrise. RO28’s pup PK4 was nearby and began calling for her mother, who quickly left PK5 and rejoined PK4 without human interference. A final attempt at re-uniting PK5 with his mother RH58 occurred that morning of 8/4/18, however she continued to be aggressive toward the pup. The Kauai team captured PK5 (now permanent ID of RK58) and transported him to Lihue for USCG C130 transport to Ke Kai Ola for rehab mid-day on 8/4/18.
  • The first pup of the year, now weanling RK42, was de-hooked by the Kauai team on 7/28/18. A large j-hook with 5’ of 100 lb test monofilament leader with swivel attached was removed from the right side of the seal’s mouth.

Updates on previous reports:

  • RK28 gave birth to PK3 on June 26.
  • RO28 gave birth to PK4 on June 30.
  • Bleach markings: No bleaches were applied.
  • Morbillivirus vaccinations: No seals were vaccinated.

Research/Support of PIFSC

  • Sub-sampled placenta from RH58.
  • Sub-sampled scat, molt, and tissue plug samples accordingly.
  • Logged all seal sightings for Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) database. Organized photos and reported sightings, molt tallies, survival factors to send to PIFSC.

RK58 Moved to Ke Kai Ola

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Endangered Hawaiian monk seal rescued on Kaua‘i stabilizes at Ke Kai Ola, a dedicated hospital for monk seals on Hawai‘i Island

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PC: G. Langley

(Kailua-Kona, Hawai‘i – Aug. 6, 2018) – A Hawaiian monk seal pup recently rescued on Kaua‘i is now in stable condition at Ke Kai Ola, The Marine Mammal Center’s hospital and visitor center in Kailua-Kona that is dedicated to the endangered marine mammal. The male pup, RK58, was born on July 16 to monk seal RH58 (Rocky) and involved in a switch with another mom-pup pair on the same beach. Multiple attempts at reunification were ultimately unsuccessful, leading to the decision to rescue the pup before weather conditions prevented intervention.

“While surprising to see a second mom-pup switch on the Main Hawaiian Islands, The Marine Mammal Center is prepared to provide rehabilitative care to any Hawaiian monk seal in need,” says Dr. Claire Simeone, the Center’s Hospital Director at Ke Kai Ola. “Each individual animal’s survival is critical to support the recovery of the population, and we are grateful to give RK58 a second chance at life.”

Pup switches are a natural occurrence that are observed annually in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, but are less common in the Main Hawaiian Islands due to the lower density of moms and pups. Last month, experts from The Marine Mammal Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) made the decision to rescue Sole, a young male pup born on Moloka‘i that was also involved in a mom-pup pair switch. This is only the second observed occurrence of this type of switch in the Main Hawaiian Islands.

“This is an unfortunate but natural occurrence that we do see in the wild,” says Jessie Bohlander, Research Marine Biologist and Acting Program Lead for NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center’s (PIFSC) Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program (HMSRP). “We are lucky to have a great partnership between NOAA, the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), The Marine Mammal Center, and others to quickly handle these situations and are hopeful that RK58 will do well at Ke Kai Ola and be successfully released back to the wild.”

On July 16, Rocky gave birth on a remote Kaua‘i beach near two other mom-pup pairs. The animals were observed daily by trained biologists and volunteers with NOAA and DLNR. At about five days of age, volunteers saw RK58 switch nursing mothers with another pup. NOAA and DLNR personnel initiated reunification attempts, and Rocky took her pup back immediately with no aggression or confusion.

Late last week, RK58 switched mothers again. Due to a difference in ages of the pups and a concern that RK58 would not be able to nurse long enough from a different mom, reunification efforts were again attempted. Unfortunately, Rocky rejected her pup and displayed signs of aggression toward him. Rocky then left the area, and her pup was left on its own after having nursed for a total of 19 days, well short of the typical 35 to 50 day nursing duration. It was clear that intervention was critical to ensure the pup’s survival.

 

“As we do with all our monk seal moms and pups, we worked hard to ensure Rocky had a successful nursing period. We did everything we could to keep Rocky and her pup together, but despite our best

efforts, Rocky stopped nursing her pup and we had to intervene to save the pup’s life,” says Jamie Thomton, the Kaua‘i Marine Mammal Response Program Coordinator with NOAA Fisheries Service. “However, we are fortunate that the Hawaiian monk seal hospital Ke Kai Ola is prepared to accept orphaned pups like RK58.”

Dr. Simeone, along with Mr. Thomton from NOAA and Mimi Olry from DLNR, led the rescue effort for the pup this past Saturday ahead of anticipated weather conditions that would make a transport impossible. The United States Coast Guard provided a flight for Dr. Simeone on a C130 from Honolulu to Kaua‘i, and then on to Hawai‘i Island to safely transport the seal to Ke Kai Ola. Dr. Simeone accompanied the seal throughout the transport and is providing supportive care at the hospital with the assistance of staff and volunteers.

During an initial exam, Dr. Simeone noted that the pup is malnourished but otherwise stable. He is currently receiving nutrition in the form of electrolyte tube feedings, and as he grows stronger will transition to eating whole fish. The team plans to quarantine RK58 from Sole until veterinarians can confirm that RK58 is free from infectious disease. Sole continues to progress well in rehabilitation as he makes the transition from tube feeding to free feeding on whole fish. Human interaction will be minimal to ensure that both seal pups stay wild. Once each seal reaches a healthy body condition and is able to forage on its own, it will be released back to the wild.

It is rare to rescue a monk seal from the main Hawaiian Islands, and this young pup is only the third pup from the main islands to be rehabilitated by the Center. The Marine Mammal Center is a member of the Pacific Island Region Marine Mammal Response Network and is responsible for monitoring the seals that haul out on Hawai‘i Island.

The Marine Mammal Center has rehabilitated 23 monk seals since opening Ke Kai Ola in 2014, the majority of which were rescued from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The Center is proud to partner with NOAA to support conservation efforts for the Hawaiian monk seal. Researchers estimate the current monk seal population to be about 1,400 animals, and about 30 percent of those monk seals are alive today directly due to conservation efforts led by NOAA and its partners.

HOW THE PUBLIC CAN HELP

Members of the public should keep a safe distance from monk seals and report sightings on Hawai‘i Island to the Center’s response team at the 24-hour hotline: 808-987-0765.

Volunteers are needed at the Kona hospital and visitor center in a variety of roles, including animal care, education and response. Interested individuals should visit MarineMammalCenter.org/KKO-volunteerto learn more about the opportunities available.

ABOUT THE MARINE MAMMAL CENTER

The Marine Mammal Center is guided and inspired by a shared vision of a healthy ocean for marine mammals and humans alike. Our mission is to advance global ocean conservation through marine

mammal rescue and rehabilitation, scientific research, and education. Since 1975, the Center has been headquartered in the Marin Headlands, Sausalito, Calif., within the Golden Gate National Parks and has rescued and treated over 20,000 marine mammals. In 2014, the Center opened Ke Kai Ola, a hospital and visitor center dedicated to the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, in Kailua-Kona, Hawai‘i. Ke Kai Ola recently launched a new middle-school marine science program and participates in a number of education and community outreach programs on its own and with community partners.

For more information, please visit MarineMammalCenter.org. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Based on this great photo from a long-time dedicated volunteer, it appears that RH58’s (Rocky’s) pup known for now as PK5 is male! The telltale sign in males something called the penile groove. Instead of five dots on their bellies that females possess, males will have just two.

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PC: G. Langley

Here’s another diagram. (Source: NOAA)

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In the photo above, PK5 is 10 days old old. Another male, PK3 (mother is RK28) was born on June 26. Twenty days separate the two males in age but notice the great difference in size and color as the older pup starts to molt his natal coat, starting with the belly.

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PC: G. Langley

Apologies for posting a day late. We were awaiting a new video of RH58 (Rocky) and her pup (who are doing quite well) from NOAA, and here it is:

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Elsewhere, Kauai’s first pup of the year–RK42–continues to explore the coastline along her natal site, developing nicely as a “weaner.” (What pups are called after their mothers wean them and before they turn one year old.)

RK30 is still nursing PK2, a male.

(Did you know pups are referred to as “PK” for “Pup Kauai” followed by their birth order for the year. Thus, RK42 was originally tracked as “PK1.” Once pups wean, they are flipper-tagged and given their science name, which is really a number. For more on flipper-tagging, click here.)

RK28 is still nursing PK3, also a male.

RO28 is also still nursing PK4, a female.

So, that’s two females and two males for the year thus far. As for PK5, at this point, gender is still unknown.

IMG_0321The eighteen-year-old Hawaiian monk seal known to science as RH58 but more commonly known to thousands of her fans as “Rocky” has returned to Kaua`i and given birth to her 11th pup on a remote stretch of coastline where she has pupped nine previous times.

That news has allowed many, many, many people in the Hawaiian monk seal world to breathe a sign of relief, because they won’t have to worry quite as much about the health and safety of mom and pup and beachgoers as they did last year when Rocky surprised everyone by pupping on busy Waikiki Beach. (Reminder: Protective moms have been known to charge snorkelers and swimmers in the water, so steer clear.)

RH58 nurses pupRocky herself was born on another beach on Kaua`​i back in 2000. At some point in her adulthood, she crossed the 70-mile-wide Ka`ie`iewaho Channel and spends much of her adult life navigating the waters and coastline of O`ahu.

She gave birth on the shores of Kaua`i for the first time in 2006 when she was six years of age.

She continued to live on O`​ahu and pup on Kaua`i with little to no trouble (or drama!) until four years ago.

RH58 nuzzles pupIn 2014, Rocky and her pup were involved in a dog(s) attack. Her pup (RF58) received over 60 bite marks on her body, developing a couple abscesses around her neck. A NOAA veterinary team responded with antibiotics. (This was the same attack in which RK28‘s young pup was killed.) Remember, it’s a state law that all dogs on beaches must be leashed.

Then, in 2017, Rocky pupped on Waikiki Beach, igniting her headline-making days and introducing Hawaiian monk seals to tens of thousands of visitors from across the globe. Their first few weeks together were live-streamed by a local media outlet, and the pupping event sparked numerous Facebook fan pages.

In January 2018, Rocky became a grandmother for the first time when her female pup–RB00–gave birth to a pup (R00K) on Lāna`i. Then, she almost became a grandmother a second time when RK52 pupped earlier this year. Unfortunately, that pup was stillborn. RK52 was born in 2011 and officials have hopes she will give birth to many healthy pups in the future.

Hawaiian monk seals can live to be 25 to 30 years old in the wild, so there’s a good chance Rocky will continue to contribute to the recovery of her species in the years to come. Perhaps Rocky’s next great headline will come in six or seven years when she, RB00, and R00K all three pup in the same year. Now, that would be big news.

Keep returning to this page. Photos and video will be added throughout the next few days.

Meanwhile, if you’d like a historical review of Rocky’s whereabouts when she’s on O`ahu, try searching for “RH58” on the Monk Seal Mania website.

Field Report: June 2018

The Kauai team logged 36 individually identified monk seals on Kauai in June, for a grand total of 315 sightings. This equates to 10+ monk seals sighted and reported per day.

June: 315
May: 332
April: 302
March: 299

New:

  • Pregnant adult female RK30 hauled out twice at Poipu, very near her predicted pupping date but left the area and gave birth to PK2 at a remote location on June 15.
  • RK28 gave birth to PK3 on June 26.
  • RO28 gave birth to PK4 on June 30.

Updates:

  • First pup of the year, weanling RK42 remains healthy active. She was photographed by a visitor after successfully snagging a lobster.
  • Bleach markings: one bleach was applied to weanling RK42.
  • Morbillivirus vaccinations: Weanling RK42 was vaccinated.

Research/Support of PIFSC

  • Sub-sampled placenta from RK28 and RO28.
  • Sub-sampled scat, molt, and tissue plug samples accordingly.
  • Logged all seal sightings for PIFSC database. Organized photos and reported sightings, molt tallies, survival factors to send to PIFSC.

RO28 and pup 2Twelve years ago, Kauai’s newest mom, RO28, was born in nearly the same spot she gave birth last week. While monk seals tend to have unique personalities and proclivities, it’s not uncommon for females to return to their natal beach sites when it’s their time to give birth. In fact, RO28 has pupped along the same stretch of coastline for six years in a row.

What’s more unique than that is the fact that RO28’s six pups are all still alive.

With all the threats facing Hawaiian monk seals–entanglements in marine debris, ingested fish hooks, intentional harm by humans, and the growing threat of toxoplasmosis–somehow all of RO28’s six pups have, thus far, evaded them all.

Point of note: RO28’s mother was RK06 who was shot by a fisherman in 2009. Even RO28 herself has run into some challenges. In 2010, she turned up with a fishhook in her mouth. Shortly after it was removed, she crossed the 100-mile open ocean channel to Oahu where she spends most of her time–until it’s time to give birth. Then, she makes the return journey to her natal site. Within a few days of arriving, she pups. The timing is impressive.

Here’s a recap of RO28’s pupping history:

  • In 2013, RO28 gave birth to RN30 who has recently traveled to Oahu
  • In 2014, RO28 gave birth to RF28 who now hangs out at Niihau
  • In 2015, RO28 gave birth to RG28 who often hauls out on Kauai’s South Shore. This birth was captured on video by one of our volunteers and can be seen here.
  • In 2016, RO28 gave birth to RH80 who regularly circumnavigates Kauai
  • In 2017, RO28 gave birth to RJ28 who can be found on beaches on Kauai’s North Shore and East Side

 

And, as always, if you’d like to volunteer with the Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui on Kauai, please email kauaiseals@gmail.com. And if you run across any seals on the beach, please take a quick health assessment and report any sightings to the hotline–808-651-7668.