As shared last week in the mortality of Hawaiian Monk Seals in the Main Hawaiian Islands, juvenile seals died most frequently from direct human interaction. The two juveniles who died last fall were, likely, not the first to drown in lay gill nets over the years.

If you are not familiar with lay gill nets, they are used for recreational and subsistence fishing. A lay net is a monofilament mesh net with cork floats along the top and lead weights along the bottom, which creates a vertical curtain that entraps fish. Occasionally turtles, seals, and larger fish such as sharks get entrapped as well. The rules for legal use of lay nets on Kauai are detailed and somewhat confusing, however the primary rules on Kauai are as follows:

· No longer than 125 feet long and 7 feet tall. Minimum mesh size 2 ¾ inches stretched.

· Can be used for no longer than 4 hours in a 24-hour period, must not leave unattended for more than 30 minutes, and must be checked at the 2 hour point to release unwanted catch and any endangered species.

· Cannot be used at night (1/2 hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise)

· Must have a surface buoy with the registration tag attached at each end.

 Some of the most common violations that we see on Kauai are:

· Illegally setting the lay gill net at sunset and retrieving it in the morning. This is illegal and poses a serious threat to seals and turtles. 

· Hiding the net by not using properly marked surface buoys at each end. Unregistered nets that are set so the only thing visible on the surface is a single plastic bottle. 

· Illegally setting lay nets in freshwater rivers, streams or canals, or across a stream mouth. They can only be used saltwater.

If you see a lay net being used illegally, please call the hotline (651-7668) immediately and we will work with the DOCARE officers to take the appropriate action.

An estimated 300 Hawaiian monk seals live in the Main Hawaiian Islands. Late last year, NOAA released a paper reporting the major threats to Hawaiian Monk Seals in the Main Hawaiian Islands. The study summarized the causes of deaths for 114 seals from 1992 to 2019. The results revealed that more than half of these 114 seal deaths were caused by humans.

Here’s a breakdown:

  • 57 percent were human caused, including 14 percent of the deaths from toxoplasmosis, a disease that is present in Hawaii in the feces of cats. This disease is considered a human-caused threat, because cats were introduced to Hawaii by humans. Cats are not native to Hawaii. Other types of human-caused deaths include drowning in gill nets, intentional killing, and death due to complications of ingestion of fish hooks.
  • 35 percent were due to natural causes. This category includes malnutrition and natural diseases.
  • 8 percent were due to other diseases.

A few patterns were reported by age categories and sex, like:

  • Nursing pups died predominantly from natural causes.
  • Juvenile seals died most frequently from direct human interaction. 
  • Adult females were most commonly killed by toxoplasmosis.

While the population of Hawaiian monk seals in the Main Hawaiian Islands has been growing slowly over the past 20 years, these anthropogenic mortalities are impacting the recovery of the species. These threats are unlike those found in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands where an estimated 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals are found.

For more information on this report, click here.

To read the scientific report published in Marine Mammal Science, click here.

In January, a volunteer swimming at Anini Beach noticed a turtle struggling to swim. The turtle attempted to haul out on the beach while dragging marine debris. The volunteer called the Kauai Marine Animal Stranding Hotline to report a large green sea turtle had hauled up on beach entangled with monofilament, a stick, and wire from what appeared to be the remains of a crab trap. The volunteer sent photos and described a cord wrapped deeply around the joint of the left fore flipper.  Fortunately the distal flipper was not swollen and the turtle was still able to move it normally, so the circulation was not restricted by the entanglement. This is important to note, because if the flipper was swollen and/or if there was indication of circulation and/or tissue loss, the sea turtle would have needed veterinary attention. Following instructions from the stranding coordinator, a couple of other beach goers assisted with keeping the turtle quiet while the volunteer used a special tool to cut and unwind the cord until it was completely removed.

The turtle was able to use the freed fore flipper, but unfortunately, while the turtle had been entangled by the marine debris, it had been preyed upon by a shark. The photos sent by the volunteer showed a shark bite amputation of tail and lacerations to rear flippers. After more consultations with the NOAA Sea Turtle Stranding Program, the decision was made to monitor the turtle on the beach.  For the next several days, the turtle was spotted resting at several spots along the beach while it healed, indicating it had been in the water swimming and, presumably, foraging.

 Sea turtles and other protected species are accidentally caught in many types of fishing gear, including commercial and recreational gear. When swimming near rod and reel fishing gear, sea turtles can become hooked on the body or entangled in the fishing line. Sea turtles may also be attracted to fishing bait and become hooked in the mouth or swallow the hook. These interactions can occur anywhere sea turtles are found.

For air-breathing organisms, such as the green sea turtle, entanglement in debris can prevent animals from being able to swim to the surface, causing them to drown. To help prevent entanglements:

  • Pick up rubbish at the beach. Don’t litter.
  • Do not feed, touch, crowd or tease them.
  • Do not cast fishing lines where turtles are seen. If you hook or entangle a turtle, do not lift turtle above the water by pulling on the line; this will cause further injury. Cut away the line as close as possible to the hook. Remove the hook only if the turtle is lightly hooked.
  • If you encounter a turtle with a serious cut, or with ingested or deeply embedded fishing line or hooks, keep the turtle in shade and seek medical care. Immediately call your local stranding assistance number for Kauai at 808-651-7668.

Recommendations to Reduce Injuries if you Hook or Entangle a Sea Turtle:

  • Call your local stranding network immediately. On Kauai, call 808-651-7668.
  • Keep hands away from the turtle’s mouth and flippers.
  • Use a net or lift by the shell to bring the turtle on the pier or land. Do NOT lift by the hook or pulling on the line. If the turtle is too large to net or lift, try to walk it to the beach.
  • When you have control of the sea turtle, use blunt scissors or knife to cut the line. Leave at least 2 ft. of line to allow for dehooking by trained responders.
  • Leave the hook in place as removing it could cause more harm.
  • Keep the turtle out of direct sunlight, and cover the shell with a damp towel.
  • If you cannot reach the response team and are unable to bring the turtle to shore, cut the line as short as possible before releasing the turtle.

News Release:


February 3, 2021 


Three Seals Found Dead in Anahola Area Late Last Year 

(HONOLULU) – It’s believed drowning is the likely cause of death of at least two of three Hawaiian monk seals found dead on Kaua‘i last September, November, and December.  

Constraints caused by the COVID-19 pandemic delayed completion of post-mortem examinations. However, considering recently received lab test results and information gathered by law enforcement officials, NOAA now believes the seals found in September and November likely died after becoming entangled in lay gill nets. The third seal was severely decomposed, making it difficult to determine the cause of death. 

While the vast majority of fishers in Hawaii continue to practice safe, sustainable, and pono fishing methods, some continue to fish recklessly, with devastating impact on native and endangered species. This is particularly common with lay gill net fishers.  

DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) rules require that a gill net used in the lay net fishing method not be left unattended for more than ½ hour after being set and should be physically checked in its entirety two hours after its initial set. The best rule of thumb for lay net fishing is to always be present and vigilant when nets are set. 

Because interactions between monk seals and lay nets continue to escalate, officers from the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) have been increasing patrols, resulting in the removal of more unattended nets across the state.  

DLNR Chair Suzanne Case said, “These monk seal deaths are, yet again, terrible and unnecessary losses.  Monofilament (made from nylon fishing line) lay nets are imported modern fishing gear that is indiscriminate and deadly and have been banned elsewhere in the U.S.  We are in discussions regarding how best to ensure seals and turtles are protected given ongoing drownings in lay nets.” 

DAR Administrator Brian Neilson added, “Our state resources, both the fish we use for food and recreation, and the rare and endangered species that call these waters home are important parts of the history, traditions, and living resources we cherish. It is important that we find the balance to respect all our marine life. That means following respectful and logical regulations put in place to protect all resources both now and into the future.” 

Keeping an eye out for illegal, unattended nets and contacting authorities if you see one is of great help to all fishers and our native species. Anyone encountering a lay net or observing seals in close proximity to nets, please report it immediately via the free DLNRTip app or by calling 643-DLNR (3567). 

# # # 

NOAA also provided an update here, adding, “Lay gill nets have proven to be one of the top threats monk seals face in the main Hawaiian Islands. While many seal deaths go undetected, net drowning causes roughly 20 percent of known deaths in seals younger than 5 years old.”

  • The Kauai team logged 124 seal sightings this month. This included 22 individually identified seals.
    • January: 125
    • December: 119
    • November: 133
    • October: 152
    • September: 152
    • August: 198
    • July: 120
    • June: 81
    • May: 147
    • April: 117
    • March: 200
    • February: 264
    • January: 319


  • Yearling seals PK1 and PK2 were both vaccinated for morbillivirus this month.
  • Adult female RK13 was observed logging in Moikeha Canal in Kapaa for about a week and then eventually hauled out on her usual beaches in the Kapaa area. She has minor bite injuries on the right front flipper, possibly from dog or shark bites. We continue to closely monitor for infection.


  • OLE and DOCARE investigation in the suspicious deaths of 3 seals continues. A $20,000 NOAA reward for information was issued. 
  • The three pups born in 2020 continue to be routinely sighted and are all in good body condition.
  • Due to COVID-19 stay-at-home measures, our new methods of monitoring continue, which include:
    • Weekly surveys of key beaches by staff;
    • Dar staff conducting weekly island-wide Creel Surveys;
    • PMRF staff continuing to send in routine reports and photos;
    • Requesting that people who call the hotline to report seals assist us by sending several photos and setting up SRA signs and/or sticks.


  • Volunteer program remains on hold due to COVID-19.

Vaccinations are a topic of great interest in our world these days–not only for humans but Hawaiian monk seals, too.

A few years ago, heading off the threat of a family of viruses known as morbillivirus, NOAA began an effort to vaccinate the majority of the entire Hawaiian monk seal population.

Morbillivirus is highly infectious disease that, in humans, accounts for measles and, in pet dogs, results in distemper. It spreads via respiratory secretions. Morbillivirus is no stranger to marine mammals, either. Outbreaks of morbilliviruses have killed tens of thousands of dolphins and seals worldwide.

There is little genetic diversity among Hawaiia monk seals, and research shows that monk seals do not carry antibodies to morbillivirus in their blood, so their immune systems are not likely to protect them from contracting the disease. With an estimated 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals, one such outbreak could be devastating to the recovery of the species.

Like the current vaccines rolling out for COVID-19, the ones used to inoculate monk seals require two shots–the initial dosage followed by a booster a couple weeks later.

Last year, with COVID-19, the usual routine of vaccinating Hawaiian monk seal weaners when they were flipper-tagged was put on hold, like so many things in our world. Well, last week, two of the monk seal pups born in 2020–PK1 (bleach-marked V00) and pK2 (bleach-marked V02)–were vaccinated against morbillivirus.

For more about the rollout of the morbillivirus monk seal vaccination plan, read here.

Here are some recent photos of PK1. (Photo credit: J. Thomton.)

The Kauai team logged 119 seal sightings this month. This included 23 individually identified seals.

  • December: 119
  • November: 133
  • October: 152
  • September: 152
  • August: 198
  • July: 120
  • June: 81
  • May: 147
  • April: 117
  • March: 200
  • February: 264
  • January: 319
  • December: 180


Weaned female seal pup PK3 was flipper tagged by the Kauai team as RM28. The other two pups from 2020 will be tagged in January.


OLE and DOCARE investigation in the suspicious deaths of 3 seals continues. A $20,000 NOAA reward for information was issued. All carcass remains were shipped to Oahu in early December and are pending necropsy. 

DOCARE investigation into the dog attack on an unknown seal at Kealia Beach remains open. All regular east side seals have been re-sighted in good health.

The three pups born in 2020 continue to be routinely sighted, all in good body condition.

Due to COVID-19 stay-at-home measures, our new methods of monitoring continue, which include:

  • Weekly surveys of key beaches conducted by DLNR and NOAA staff.
  • DAR staff conducting weekly island wide Creel Surveys.
  • PMRF staff continuing to send in routine reports and photos.
  • Requesting that people who call the hotline to report seals assist us by sending several photos and setting-up SRA signs or sticks. 


·       Volunteer program remains on hold due to COVID-19.

Here are some year-end stats. Like everything for 2020, remember that these numbers are greatly influenced due to COVID-19, which paused the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui’s volunteer program.

Grand sightings total: 

  • 2,005 or 5.5/day monk seal sightings on Kauai in 2020.
  • 3,154 or 8.9/day in 2019.
  • 3,253 or 8.9/day in 2018.
  • 3,621 or 9.9/day 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: 

  • 67 unique individual seals sighted on Kauai in 2020.
  • 67 in 2019.
  • 60 in 2018.
  • 60 in 2017.
  • 56 in 2016.
  • 53 in 2015.
  • 47 in 2014.

Births: 3 total born on Kauai in 2020.

  • V00 (bleach-marked) born to RB00 in March.
  • V02 (bleach-marked) born RH58 to in August.
  • RM28 (flipper-tagged) born to RK28 in August.

Mortalities: 6 confirmed mortalities in 2020.

  • R313 and fetus: adult female with near full term fetus, necropsy pending.
  • RJ36: 3-year-old male, hook ingestion, necropsy pending.
  • RKA6: 2-year old female, mummified condition, cause of death unknown.
  • RL52: 1-year-old male, necropsy pending, case under investigation.
  • Weaned female pup, ID unknown, necropsy pending, case under investigation.
  • Subadult seal, sex and ID unknown, mummified condition, cause of death unknown, case under investigation.

Niihau Seals (likely): sighted a minimum of 8 new seals in 2020, but likely more as several new untagged seals had no markings or scars so no temporary IDs were given.

  • 8 in 2020.
  • 5 in 2019.
  • 9 in 2018.
  • 12 in 2017.
  • 6 in 2016.
  • 14 in 2015.

Displacements: 4 total displacements occurred.

  • 3 displacements from unsafe or unsuitable locations (boat ramps, beach roads, sidewalks, etc).
  • 1 displacements from the Poipu keiki pool. 

Vaccination for morbillivirus efforts: 

Due to COVID-19, fieldwork was minimal and no seals were vaccinated. Plans are in place to resume vaccinations in 2021.

Bleach marking effort: 

6 bleach marks were applied.

Stranding Responses in 2020: 

One monk seal stranding response and 6 carcass retrievals:

  • RK13 – gillnet wrapped around muzzle was removed with a pole mounted cutting tool. 

Below you’ll find the top ten “reported” Hawaiian monk seals on Kauai for 2020. By reported, we mean those monk seals that were called in—and identified—to the Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui hotline. (See a monk seal on the beach? Report it to 808-651-7668.)

Keep in mind, many things affect this list. Monk seals often have favorite locations where they haul out. If a monk seal favors a location that happens to be easily accessible by humans, bingo, that seal will be reported more often to the hotline. Of course, monk seal moms and their pups rack up a high number of reported sightings, because they stick to the same beach for weeks on end. Molting monk seals, too. As this list will also reveal, young monk seals are often sighted and reported, too, because they tend to make themselves noticed;-)

To make this list a little more interesting, we’ve included only those tagged seals, meaning pups are not included until they are weaned and flipper-tagged.

You might find it interesting to compare this year to last year. You’ll see a few regulars appearing in both years, as well as, some newcomers to the list. However, keep in mind, because of COVID-19 and the greatly abbreviated volunteer program, this year’s reporting numbers are, as expected, quite lower. What’s interesting is that the many years of work by the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui has educated the public so well that the hotline is still ringing. Concerned citizens are calling and reporting seals. This is in great part due to the diligent outreach efforts of the volunteer team.

So, here goes:

  1. With 90 reported sightings, one-year-old female RL58 tops the list. She was born to the famous RH58, also known as Rocky, in July of 2019. She remains close to her natal beach and has a preference for hauling out in rocky areas rather than sand, and doesn’t socialize with other seals much.
  2. With 66 reported sightings, the 20 plus year-old-female RK13 ranks second. She is the most well-known seal on Kauai’s east side, easily identifiable by her blind white left eye, many body scars, and worn red flipper tags that read 5AA and 5AB. She has given birth at least three times that we know of, including in 2012, 2015, 2018. Hopefully she will continue that pattern and pup again in 2021.
  3. With 61 reported sightings, seven-year-old RN30 ranks third. He tends to range far and wide with reported sightings of him from many different beaches on Kauai and Oahu.
  4. With 52 reported sightings, the seven-year-old R353 ranks fourth. She first showed up on Kauai in 2016 and is likely a Niihau girl. The past couple of years we watched her gradually get very large and pregnant, disappear for a couple of months and then return after losing about half her body weight. We suspect her pups were born on Niihau.
  5. With 45 reported sightings, one-year-old male RL08 ranks fifth. He was infamously fat as a pup, nursing two full weeks longer than the average nursing period of 40 days. It appears that 54 days of fatty milk gave him a head start as he now looks more like a 3-year-old seal, rather than the yearling he is.
  6. With 44 reported sightings, R3CD and RN44 are tied for sixth. These 6 and 7-year-old males, respectively, are difficult to tell apart. They are the same size, have very few scars, and often challenge each other for the right to rest near certain females. However, RN44 has recently become a regular seal sighted on Oahu, so R3CD may have less competition in 2021.
  7. With 43 reported sightings, two-year-old female RKA2 comes in at a very close seventh. She’s the offspring of the late, great, RK30, and has become a very faithful east side seal, although originally from Milolii Beach on the Na Pali Coast.
  8. And finally tied for eighth, with 41 reported sightings, are the four-year-old R1NS and nine-year-old RK90. These healthy large females are both most likely from Niihau, but tagged on Kauai as yearlings. R1NS is currently looking rather large, and we suspect she is pregnant for her first time. The question is, where will she go to pup?

A couple weeks ago, a big 50+ year-old female Green sea turtle was discovered badly injured along the Māhāʻulepū coastline. She was reported to the hotline by beachgoers and due to her serious injuries, an immediate recovery response was initiated that included her transport to Oʻahu for care. After an exam by a team on Oʻahu, it was determined her lungs, which are located just under the carapace, had been lacerated and her spinal cord injured, likely causing paralysis of her rear flippers. Unfortunately, these are not the kinds of injuries that can be rehabilitated, and the turtle was humanely euthanized.

This was the 22nd turtle in 2020 reported struck by boats and/or boat propellers, hydrofoils, or other ocean vessels, causing DLNR to offer these best practices to reduce the potential for boat strike:

  • Post-a-lookout to help watch out for and avoid marine hazards. 
  • Drive slowly (5–10 knots) near harbors and boat ramps to assure a “turtle-safe” transit so both sea turtles and vessel operators have time to evade collisions. 
  • Maintain “Slow–No Wake” speeds within 200 feet of shore (vessels), and jet skis within 300 feet of shore (DLNR regulation). 
  • Provide a 50 foot buffer between boats and sea turtles, or be extra cautious when traveling over shallow reef habitats.   
  • Avoid feeding turtles either directly or inadvertently, such as when cleaning fish, so turtles don’t learn to associate boats with food.  
  • Wear polarized sunglasses in order to see marine hazards or sea turtles better.

Here is the press release DLNR issued on this particular stranding:

Hawaii DLNR

Dec. 11, 2020 

22 Boat Strikes in 2020 Raises Alarm 

(HONOLULU) – After being struck by a vessel and stranding at Māhāʻulepū, Gillins beach on Kauai, sea turtle stranding responders knew the prognosis was poor for this large (150 lb) green sea turtle. The animal was rescued from the beach and transported to O’ahu to be examined by a qualified sea turtle veterinarian that works with NOAA. There was hope that there might be a chance the turtle could survive its injuries and receive the necessary treatment and rehabilitation to be returned to the ocean.   

Dr. Gregg Levine, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) contract veterinarian received the turtle at the Veterinary Centers of America in Kāne’ohe Wednesday night. He has examined many of the 22 green sea turtles who have been struck by boat propellers, broadsided by boats themselves, hydrofoils, or other ocean vessels, so far this year. Unfortunately, most sea turtles struck by boats do not survive. This year only one turtle was sent to the Maui Ocean Center Marine Institute for Rehabilitation before being released back to the ocean to live another day.  

“As a veterinarian, it’s quite an honor to have the opportunity to treat an animal like a sea turtle. They are such ancient creatures with so much instinctual knowledge. To work with such animals and the amazing people that respond to these animals in need of assistance is amazing. Helping an injured sea turtle return to the wild is a highlight of my professional career,” Levine commented, before examining the latest boat strike victim. 

When Shandell Brunson, NOAA’s Sea Turtle Stranding Coordinator, arrived with the turtle at the veterinary clinic, the patient was barely moving, it was lethargic and barely breathing. Dr. Levine carefully transported the big turtle into an examination room. The most obvious injury was a large wound that exposed a large portion of the lungs. However, more serious, was suspected injury to the spinal cord.  The turtle’s rear flippers were hyperextended. The flippers appeared glued together and the turtle was unable to move them. Dr. Levine explained these were clear signs of damage to the spinal cord. Given the severity of the trauma to the shell and the apparent spinal cord injury, the decision was to humanely euthanize this large, beautiful, and otherwise healthy animal. 

“Whatever the outcome, far too many turtles are being struck by boats, and other vessels.  We need everyone to slow down and pay attention,” said Ed Underwood, Administrator of the DLNR Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR). The division, in partnership with NOAA, conducts continuous boater education and outreach to explain the devastating consequences, to Hawai‘i’s precious turtle population, when boats strike.  

“Clearly not all ocean-goers are getting the message and many probably don’t even know they struck a turtle because they’re either going to fast or not paying attention to what’s happening in the water around them,” Underwood added. Many of the boat strikes happen in relatively shallow waters and typically in or near small boat harbors and boat ramps, where speed limits and no-wake zones are always in effect.  

“A turtle that is struck by a vessel can sometimes make it to the beach and that’s where we find them either dead or seriously injured,” said Irene Kelly, the Sea Turtle Recovery Coordinator for the Pacific Islands Region of NOAA Fisheries. “We’ve had 22 reported sea turtles with boat strike injuries on O‘ahu, Kaua‘i and Maui since March. The most heartbreaking part is that large subadults and adults tend to be most at risk. They have survived for 30 or more years, have managed to avoid all other threats, but then get hit by a boat speeding over their home reef. Most of these incidents are avoidable if boaters would simply slow down and keep a close eye out for turtles in the ocean, and especially near harbors where there is high boat traffic.”  

DOBOR realizes that sea turtles can be difficult to see in the water, but it is possible to watch out for turtles and other marine hazards such as coral heads, swimmers, divers, or snorkelers. Fortunately, there are a number of best-practices to help reduce the potential for a boat strike, such as:  

  • Post-a-lookout to help watch out for and avoid marine hazards. 
  • Drive slowly (5–10 knots) near harbors and boat ramps to assure a “turtle-safe” transit so both sea turtles and vessel operators have time to evade collisions. 
  • Maintain “Slow–No Wake” speeds within 200 feet of shore (vessels), and jet skis within 300 feet of shore (DLNR regulation). 
  • Provide a 50 foot buffer between boats and sea turtles, or be extra cautious when traveling over shallow reef habitats.   
  • Avoid feeding turtles either directly or inadvertently, such as when cleaning fish, so turtles don’t learn to associate boats with food.  
  • Wear polarized sunglasses in order to see marine hazards or sea turtles better. 

Also, here are video clips of the exam with Dr. Levine that were released to the media. (Warning: Parts of this may be disturbing.)