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Field Report: 2017 In Review

Here are a few 2017 year-end monk seal management stats for Kauai:

  • Grand sightings total:
    • 3,621 or 9.9/day monk seal sightings on Kauai in 2017
    • 3,236 or 8.9/day in 2016
    • 3,321 or 9.1/day in 2015
    • 2,516 or 6.9/day in 2014
  • Kauai population: 60 unique individual seals sighted in 2017 (56 in 2016, 53 in 2015, 47 in 2014)
  • Births: 4 total born on Kauai and likely 4 more Kauai females pupped on Niihau
    • 2 pups born on North Shore
    • 2 pups born on Na Pali coast
    • 2 pregnant Kauai females pupped on Niihau observed during Niihau survey (R1KY and RK14). Suspect 2 additional pupped on Niihau based on body condition and timing (RK28 and R313).
  • Mortalities: two observed seal mortality
    • Adult female R4DP found dead at Glass Beach.
    • Male pup RJ22 – carcass found at Hanamaulu Beach.
  • Niihau Seals: sighted 12 new seals in 2017 (6 in 2016, 14 in 2015) likely from Niihau
    • The Kauai team flipper tagged 5 of these.
  • Displacements: 14 total displacements occurred
    • 5 displacements from unsafe or unsuitable locations.
    • 9 displacements from Poipu Keiki Pool.
  • Vaccination for morbillivirus efforts:
    • 17 seals were fully vaccinated on Kauai. 9 were partially vaccinated.
  • Bleach marking effort:
    • 19 bleach marks were applied

Stranding Responses in 2017:

  • 13 monk seal stranding responses:
    • R4DP – found dead at Glass Beach. Transported to Oahu for necropsy.
    • RK13 – monofilament fishing line wrapped around body and removed with longline cutter.
    • RH92 – conditioned to feeding on fish scraps in Lihi canal. Translocated to PMRF while fish scrap dumping issue addressed. Seal returned to Lihi canal area, but no longer forages in the canal.
    • RG22 – hooked and anchored to bottom at Mahaulepu. Tourist cut line free, Kauai team removed circle hook from cheek following day.
    • RG22 – hooked again. Captured and held overnight by the Kauai team until Oahu team arrived to sedate and remove tightly embedded circle hook.
    • RN02 – monofilament observed wrapped around teeth. Disturbed for visual and photo assessment. No hook observed, no further response required.
    • Unknown juvenile approached boat headed to Na Pali, observed with heavy monofilament coming from mouth. Seal never resighted.
    • RK90 – circle hooked removed from cheek.
    • R340 – two large trolling j-hooks embedded in back with heavy line trailing. In three different non-capture responses line cut away and one hook removed. Final embedded hook left to come out naturally, which occurred within two weeks.
    • RH38 – captured and transported to Ke Kai Ola for rehab. Seal was de-wormed, fattened, and released back on Kauai.
    • RJ22 – found dead at Hanamaulu. Transported to Oahu for necropsy.
    • R7AA – moderate injury to right cheek observed. Antibiotics given, seal recovered.
    • NG00 – circle hook in right cheek. Closely assessed. Capture and de-hooking not yet possible.
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Monk Seal Monday #8

7AA front head viewEarlier this month, someone called the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Hui hotline to report a green seal hauled out on the east side. It was R7AA. The next day, the same seal was reported “very green” and with a “transmitter.” (You may recall R7AA was flipper-tagged in September and outfitted with a dive recorder. That was the “transmitter” on her back.) But this report also included “something hanging from the seal’s mouth.” Kindly, the caller sent photos. Shortly thereafter, the dispatcher with the Kauai Police Department also received a call and report of a hooked seal. More photos were submitted. While no hook was seen in any of the photos, our Kauai team immediately responded.

7AA side head viewWhat they found was, indeed, a very green seal sporting a transmitter. And no hook. But she did have gouges to both her upper and lower lips and a flap of skin hanging from the right side of her mouth and was given a antibiotic injection by way of a pole syringe.

7AA lifting headThat was last weekend. In the week since, R7AA has been sighted on three more occasions. The skin flap is gone. Her wound is healing. And she’s just started to molt around her flippers.

For now, she’s still–appropriately for the holiday–green.

This is a good example of the efforts of many people and agencies coming together to aid one in need, our endangered Hawaiian monk seals.

 

Monk Seal Monday #7

face_seal_J36_male_12DEC17_DLOn July 19, 2017, our second pup of the year was tagged RJ36 (born to RK30) at his natal birth site along a stretch of Napali Coast. But he wasn’t officially re-sighted again until late in the afternoon last week Tuesday when a field biologist at Pacific Missile Range Facility reported two seals had hauled out along Kauai’s southwestern shore. One was R8HY and the other turned out to be RJ36. The field biologist observed some unusual scars just forward of the weaner’s left fore flipper and across his dorsal above his rear flippers.

tail_seal_J36_male_12DEC17_DLAfter reviewing photos of RJ36 with the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program (HMSRP), the consensus is RJ36 had an encounter with a shark. The good news is RJ36 appears to be in good health. His wounds have healed, and he’s looking nice and plump.

left_seal_J36_male_12DEC17_DL

In the Main Hawaiian Islands, HMSRP does not rank sharks as a major threat to monk seal survival. According to HMSRP, there have been no documented cases of mortality from sharks in the Main Hawaiian Islands. However, that doesn’t mean they haven’t happened, as those events probably go completely undetected.

RJ36 isn’t Kauai’s only known seal with suspected shark encounters.

There’s also RJ36’s mom, RK30, who was first sighted as an adult by the HMSRP in 2005, already with what’s possibly a scar from a shark bite. She also has a dozen or more cookie cutter shark scars dotting her body.

More recently, another mature female RK13 was sighted in 2011 with two apparent shark wounds–one above her left fore flipper and the other on her right ventral side. We reported on it here. She was regularly sighted along Kapaa’s canals as she recovered from her injuries. She was also pregnant at the time but eventually gave birth to a healthy pup, RL10. Then, in May of this year, we reported here that RK13 was sighted with an unsightly wound to her nares (nostrils), possibly due to a shark bite. Monk seals have an amazing ability to heal themselves through a process called “tissue granulation,” and RK13’s wound healed nicely.

20170426,Fuji,RK13(Miyashiro)

There are two other known seals with shark wounds. RH92 was a newly weaned pup in 2016 when she turned up with a fresh and deep cookie cutter shark wound on her head.

RICOH IMAGING

R1KY has a large shark bite scar below her right fore flipper, most visible on her dorsal side. R1KY

It’s impossible to know for sure that all these scars are due to sharks and specifically what kind of shark; however, three shark species are common suspects:

  1. Tiger: Considered an apex predator, Tiger sharks grow to lengths of 18 feet and longer, wearing up to 2,000 pounds. This shark inhabits coastal and pelagic waters. Tiger sharks mature slowly and pup in litters of 35 to 55 individuals. Their name comes from the dark, vertical stripes that, interestingly, lighten in color as they age. They can live 30 to 40 years. They eat a wide variety of marine animals and carrion and have been called, “the garbage can of the sea.”
  2. Cookiecutter: The cookiecutter shark, also called the cigar shark, lives in warm, oceanic waters worldwide and particularly near islands. Its common name comes from the cookie cutter-like wounds it leaves in its prey. It lives at depths of 3,200 feet during the day but migrates up the water column at night to feed. To feed, the fish uses its suction cup-like lips to attach itself onto prey. Then, it spins its body, using the row of serrated teeth on its lower jaw to remove a plug of flesh, leaving behind crater-like wounds that are two inches across and approximately two-and-a-half inches deep.
  3. Galapagos: This shark grows to 10 feet in length and generally eats bottom fishes and cephalopods. In the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, where approximately 85 percent of the Hawaiian monk seal species lives, Galapagos sharks have been recorded predating on monk seal pups in nearshore waters around French Frigate Shoals. It’s hypothesized that a small group of sharks are involved in this behavior. You can read more about this unusual mortality event and mitigation efforts here.

Not all appearances of sharks spell trouble for monk seals, as this video from National Geographic’s CritterCam shows. At 1:50, you’ll see sharks in the foreground but no interaction between the species. And at 4:42, you’ll see the Crittercam-toting monk seal chase off a couple reef sharks.

 

Field Report: November

In November, the Kauai team logged 239 seal sightings. This included 35 individually identified seals. Here’s a look at how the 239 number compares to other months.

November: 239
October: 225
September: 354
August: 236
July: 335

As a reminder, there are numerous reasons that can effect the number of reported seal sightings. Two big ones are the availability of our steadfast volunteers taking their daily beach walks, and the presence of moms with pups and the subsequent “pup sitting” we do. Of course, the seals themselves play a factor in this, too. Maybe there’s some seasonality in foraging that takes them to remote areas of the island where we don’t see them. That’s the thing with animals that spend the majority of their lives at sea–we don’t quite know.

Other November news to note:

  • Seal activity continues around Poipu Beach Park with seals swimming among swimmers, snorkelers and the water aerobics class and hauling out on the beach amidst beach-goers. Our advice continues to be for everyone involved to give the animal its space and never approach, touch, harass, disturb it. Remember: Monk seals are wild animals; let’s keep them that way.
  • One additional monk seal received its morbillivirus vaccination in November. This virus, similar to distemper in dogs, has not infected the monk seal species. But in a proactive effort to combat an outbreak, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Science Program started vaccinating seals last year. To learn more about the threat of morbillivirus, read this Smithsonian article.
  • Two seals “bleach-marked” this month–RG22 as V22 and R340 as V77. To learn more about using Clairol to help identify individuals seals, read this previous #MonkSealMonday report.
  • Four seals completed their molts in November, including: RH38, RG58, RK14, RH80. To learn more about molting in Hawaiian monk seals, read this previous #MonkSealMonday report.

Monk Seal Monday #6

H38-171203-BD8_3553

PC: B. Downs.

As a follow up to last week’s post on molting, it appears that RH38 has completed her molt. She’s lost the green and is back to sporting a sleek silvery coat. She’s also starting to navigate along the North Shore. This is good news, because RH38 spent several weeks in late summer at Ke Kai Ola being treated for a high load of intestinal parasites right as she was entering her pre-molt phase. RH38’s moved some 15 miles along the coast from where she was released back into the wild. It’s good too see RH38 moving about again like a healthy wild seal.

Now, it’s important RH38 remain a normal wild seal. That is, that she doesn’t habituate to humans and human things like boats and harbors and surfboards. During RH38’s time in rehab, her caregivers at Ke Kai Ola were careful to prevent this, but the fact remains that she spent several weeks around humans. Hopefully, RH38 does not look favorably upon that experience and will go out of her way to avoid humans.

This is where you can help. If you see RH38 interacting with people on the beach, in the water, around boats, near harbors, please let us know at 808-651-7668.

 

H38-171203-BD8_3551

PC: B. Downs.

H38-171203-BD8_3549

PC: B. Downs.

H38-171203-BD8_3552

PC: B. Downs.

H38-171203-BD8_3550

PC: B. Downs.

Monk Seal Monday #5

It’s the Monday after Thanksgiving, and there’s probably a few of us who could shed a few pounds after feasting all weekend, so let’s talk about molting.

Healthy Hawaiian monk seals molt once a year. That is, they shed the top layer of their skin–and their fur along with it. It’s called a “catastrophic” molt, because it happens over a shortened period of time of about 10 days to two weeks. Unlike a snake, say, the process doesn’t happen all in one piece but in bits and pieces. A monk seal can look pretty raggedy during this time. The molting process taxes the monk seal’s energetic resources, so you’ll often find a molting animal tucked under bushes and resting on the beach. That’s all the more reason to not disturb them and why the HMSRP rarely uses them as study subjects–say for telemetry and/or video camera purposes.

We’ve got a couple Hawaiian monk seals going through their annual catastrophic molts right now and a few more ready to start any time, including RH80, RH38, and, possibly, RK14.

The clue to knowing when a monk seal is about to molt is when they start looking very green. Monk seals tend to spend two-thirds of their life in the water. During that time, algae can grow on their fur, typically in areas where a monk seal’s fur doesn’t always dry out–under the fore flipper and around their rear flippers.

IMG_1620

lynn-nowatzki

Photo credit: Lynn Nowatzki

Field Report: October

In October, the Kauai team logged 225 seal sightings this month. This included 30 individually identified seals. Here’s a look at how the 225 number compares to other months.

October: 225
September: 354
August: 236
July: 335

As you can see, the logged sightings can vary quite a bit. There are numerous reasons that can effect the number of reported seal sightings. Two big ones are the availability of our steadfast volunteers taking their daily beach walks, and the presence of moms with pups and the subsequent “pup sitting” we do. Of course, the seals themselves play a factor in this, too. Maybe there’s some seasonality in foraging that takes them to remote areas of the island where we don’t see them. That’s the thing with animals that spend the majority of their lives at sea–we don’t quite know.

Other news to note:

  • PK4 weaned 49 days after birth. Unfortunately, we are not able to tag this weaner due to the high surf that charges the remote Napali Coast this time of year.
  • Seal activity continues around Poipu Beach Park with seals swimming among swimmers, snorkelers and the water aerobics class and hauling out on the beach amidst beach-goers. The advice for everyone involved is to give the animal its space and never approach, touch, harass, disturb it. Remember: Monk seals are wild animals; let’s keep them that way.
  • One additional monk seal received its morbillivirus vaccination in October. This virus, similar to distemper in dogs, has not infected the monk seal species. But in a proactive effort to combat an outbreak, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Science Program started vaccinating seals last year. To learn more about the threat of morbillivirus, read this Smithsonian article.