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The first main Hawaiian Island pup for 2015 was born last week to R5AY on Oahu. She’s a Kauai and Oahu seal, but mostly an Oahu seal these days. You may remember R5AY suffered from a severely hooked tongue in 2013 that required surgical removal of a portion of it. Here’s a snapshot of her life:
Background: Tagged in 2002 as an adult on Kauai – so currently at least 18 years old (assuming 5 yrs old when first seen – min age of sexual maturity)

Has mostly spent her time since between Kauai and Oahu

Pupping History

2005 – Kauai  RI37 (female)

2006 – Oahu  (female)

2008 – Oahu  (male)

2009 – Kauai  RA20 (female)

2010 – Oahu  (female)

2011 – Oahu  (female)

2012 – Oahu  (female)

2014 – Oahu (female)

2015 – Oahu. Born February 25th. Sex unknown (so far)

Interesting facts/incidents with her other pups:

– Two females died from entangling in gillnets in the Bellows/Waimanalo area on Oahu.

– RI37 has some large scars on her back – potentially from a propeller. Possibly because of the scars or other related internal injuries, she has had a history of miscarriages/abortions and stillborn pups. As of now, she has not yet had a live birth.

Hooking/Entanglement Summary for R5AY

– First reports from kite surfers near Malaekahana State Recreation Area of a seal floating entangled/dead.

– 14 November 2012 – Report of R5AY with hook in cheek on land. Covered in algae. Severely emaciated.

– 17 November – Captured at Sunset Beach by NMFS Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) staff. Brought to Waikiki Aquarium.

– 19 November – Surgery at Honolulu Zoo w/Drs. Gregg Levine, Michelle Barbieri, and Miles Yoshioka (soft tissue surgeon). Removed ~2/3rds of her tongue

– Recovery at Waikiki Aquarium. Progressed from eating dead fish to capturing live fish in pool.

– 29 November – Released near Turtle Bay. Was fitted with satellite transmitter to track movements.

– Continued surveys by volunteers after release to track location and body condition.

– 12 December – Captured by PIFSC staff to give antibiotics, take blood sample, assess body condition. Appeared to be continuing recovery.

– Mid-January 2013 – Satellite tag stopped transmitting or fell off.

– Mid-February – Molted her fur

Other interesting info regarding monk seal reproduction:

– Gestation length of monk seals is unknown. Period between pup birth dates is ~381 days (on average). After 6 weeks of nursing, females are usually seen ~19 days later with scratches & injuries that imply mating. So the assumption is that gestation is somewhere around 10-11 months. But other seals have delayed implantation – so who knows?

Field Report: January 2015

As noted in a previous update, 47 individual seals were sighted on Kauai in 2014. In just the first month of 2015, we have sighted an additional 3 new seals previously unknown to us, meaning they are likely from Niihau. The smallest and most recent addition was flipper tagged by the Kauai team at Poipu and is now known as R6AP (tagged 6AP in left rear flipper, 6AR in the right, and bleach marked V11). He’s a rather small seal (approximately 80-90 pounds and likely born last summer), but seems healthy and strong.

hawaiian monk seal, R6AP

Photo credit: J. Honnert

 

hawaiian monk seal, R6AP

Photo credit: J. Honnert

Loss of female pup, RF58.

hawaiian monk seal, RF58

Photo credit: G. Langley

At the end of November, 2014, female RF58 suffered severe blunt force trauma to the skull and died from complications associated with massive trauma and significant internal bleeding. The necropsy did not reveal any other signs of disease or illness. This is the 9th suspicious monk seal death since 2009, and the first since April 2012. NOAA Office for Law Enforcement (OLE) is investigating these deaths in coordination with the State of Hawaii, DLNR DOCARE. 

hawaiian monk seal, RF58

Photo credit: V. Bloy

RF58 was born in June, 2014 on the north shore of Kauai to a well-known mother, RH58. This mom/pup pair had a rough start though, as we reported in an earlier posting, they were victims of a dog attack in July 2014 that killed another pup. After developing abscesses (i.e., infection) from over 60 dog bites, RF58 was treated by a veterinarian and recovered. Sadly, this female pup will not have the chance to contribute to the recovery of this highly endangered species. The encouraging news is that this mother was born on Kauai in the year 2000 and has since returned 8 times to give birth to 8 pups. We look forward to her return again in 2015.

hawaiian monk seal, RF58

Photo credit: V. Bloy.

 

2014 Year-End Report

Monk Seal Management Summary for Kauai in 2014:

2014 was a busy and promising year for monk seal recovery on Kauai. Below are some of the numbers we tallied based on reports submitted by the public and efforts by volunteers and staff members. (Please note, these are only the numbers for Kauai and don’t represent the larger picture of monk seal recovery in the Hawaiian islands.)

Grand sightings total: 2​,516 monk seal sightings on Kauai in 2014! (6.9 seals per day).
Kauai population: 47 unique individual seals sighted in 2014.

Births:

  • ​5 seal pups born (3 male and 2 female).
  • 3 pregnant females likely pupped on Niihau (departed pregnant, returned thin).

Mortalities: 4 seals died.

  • 2 were 2014 pups (PK5 – dog attack, and RF58 – intentionally killed, investigation is ongoing)
  • ​1 was a ​previously unknown yearling (R4DD​ – cause of death was likely drowning)
  • ​​1 ​was a ​juvenile from 2012 cohort (RL17 ​ – cause of death unknown).​
New Seals: we sighted 11 new seals in 2014, likely from Niihau.

  • 4 were flipper tagged​​ (R4DD, R8HE, R8HP, R1KY).
  • ​1 was captured for ​surgical removal of an injured eye (R1KU)​ and eventually released on Niihau​.
  • ​3 were ​bleach marked for temporary identification.
hawaiian monk seal, RF30

Photo credit: M. Miyashiro

The largest and strongest pup of the year is female RF30. Based on her excellent body condition, it is obvious that she quickly learned to forage on her own after weaning.  She was routinely sighted during the final few months of 2014 along the east side of Kauai.

Field Report: Summer 2014

Banner pupping year on Kauai – 5 pups!

In addition to the previous pups reported (PK1, PK2 and PK3) two more pups were born on the north shore of Kauai. RH58, a well known and very successful mother gave birth to PK4 on June 28th. RK28, another proven mother gave birth to PK5 on July 16th.

Pups only spend around 40 days with their mothers, during which they gain massive amounts of weight from nursing. The typical pup is born at 35 pounds and gains between 100-150 pounds in a short 5-6 weeks! The mothers fast during this time and convert blubber into very rich milk (twice the calories of heavy whipping cream).

When the mother’s blubber is depleted they abruptly wean their pups by departing, usually at night, and do not return. The young pups are large, healthy and strong swimmers by this point and quickly learn to forage on their own. They are still very naïve, however, and can easily be taught to seek humans for food and company, so it’s crucial that we monitor these ‘weaners’ and make sure humans do not interfere with this critical developmental stage. Shortly after weaning, the pups are flipper tagged and given new permanent IDs, all of the pups born in 2014 were tagged as the ‘F’ cohort (i.e. RF22, the R identifies Main Hawaiian Island seals)

Meet the 2014 Kauai ‘F’ cohort:

RF22  Photo credit: Langley

RF22 male. Photo credit: Langley

RF28  Photo credit: Langley

RF28 male. Photo credit: Langley

RF30  Photo credit: Thomton

RF30 female. Photo credit: Thomton.

RF58  Photo credit: Langley

RF58 female. Photo credit: Langley.

PK5 Male.  Photo credit: Langley.

PK5 male. Photo credit: Langley

Off-Leash Dogs: Tragically, PK5 was killed by stray dogs when he was only two weeks old. The incident occurred during the night and was therefore not witnessed by our diligent pup-sitters. Tracks, blood, and injuries to four other seals, including PK5’s mom, indicated that the mother seals did their best to protect their pups. PK4 (now tagged RF58) had over 60 bite marks on her body and developed major abscesses around her neck. She immediately received medical attention and disease screening by a NOAA veterinary team, and fortunately healed quickly. Currently she is doing well and learning how to be an independent juvenile seal. Permanent neck scars will help us identify her, but pose no risk to her survival.

This was the first known monk seal death caused by a dog and a warning to all of us that we must keep our dogs on leashes (it is State law on all beaches) and strongly encourage everyone else to do the same.

If you follow the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program’s Facebook page you probably know about R1KU. She is the junenile female seal that was taken into captivity from Anini Beach on Kauai in February. At that time the seal was extremely thin and fighting an infection from an eye injury. She was transported to Oahu for surgical removal of a damaged, non-reparable eye to alleviate chronic pain and for rehabilitation to fatten her up. Several weeks later, she was released on the remote island of Niihau, where she was originally sighted in January. In May, we received a call from PMRF Navy base reporting a seal missing an eye, wearing a satellite tag and bleach marked, V1. That would be R1KU, who swam back to Kauai from Ni’ihau. We are pleased to report that she is in good body condition and her surgical site healing well! She has since remained on Kauai frequenting remote rocky sites and continues to look healthy.

monk seal

Photo credit: Mary Miyashiro

Pupping season is in full swing with three new pups on Kauai alone.

RK22 gave birth to a healthy male, temporarily known as PK1, on May 7th.

monk seal

Photo credit: Jamie Thomton

RO28 gave birth to a healthy male, temporarily known as PK2, on May 21st.

monk seal

Photo credit: Jamie Thomton

RK30 gave birth to a healthy pup, temporarily known as PK3 on May 29th.

monk seal

Photo credit: David Sutton

All three pups are doing well and their mother’s are proving to be highly protective, as is common with monk seals.

A word of caution: monk seal mothers can be extremely protective of their pups and therefore we recommend NO SWIMMING at the remote beaches where moms/pups are found. Further, males are usually found competing for access to mothers who will become receptive to breeding shortly after the 6 week nursing period. These males may also mistake swimmers for other competing male seals (they are very short-sighted, 30-40 feet), so again, we advise against swimming in these remote areas during pupping season.

We are currently tracking four other pregnant females that may pup on Kauai this year and look forward to sharing more pup photos with you in the future.

Field Report: Winter 2013

2013 Year in Review: 2,249 individual seal sightings were reported in 2013 for an average of 6.2 seals per day! Again, the tireless efforts of the volunteer network made this possible. The Hui identified 43 different seals including 2 pups that were born on the north shore last summer. We also identified 6 new seals that made visits from nearby islands, perhaps from Niihau, Ka’ula and Lehua rock. As reported previously, a number of seals were entangled with fish hooks in 2013. We are pleased to report that all seven hookings resulted in successful hook removal and recovery!

Photo credit: Langley

Photo credit: Langley

Weaners (weaned seal pups): Close monitoring of weaned seals continued through the 2013 season and as this photo indicates, pup RN44 has successfully learned to forage on his own. His body condition would be rated as extremely healthy. He was also bleach marked (using common human hair bleach) with the identifier V44. These bleach marks only bleach the fur and last until the next annual molt. In the meantime, this marking makes identification by beach goers, spear fishers, boaters, and volunteers much easier, especially if these curious young seals exhibit problematic behaviors such as approaching spear fishers or swimmers.

Molting: As we reported last year, winter is a time when many adult male seals

Photo credit: Honnert

Photo credit: Honnert

molt. Scroll down to learn more about this physiologically demanding process.  RK31 is currently undergoing his annual molt as shown in this photo. It is important to give molting seals space, so if you encounter a molting seal please encourage all beach users to “Let sleeping seals lie” or, in this case, molt!

Unknown visitor: In December an unknown sub-adult male seal was sighted on the north shore and immediately reported by one of our lead volunteers.

Photo credit: Langley

Photo credit: Langley

Typically unknown seals such as this only spend a few days on Kauai before disappearing again. Knowing this, we quickly organized a tagging team and successfully

flipper tagged this seal as R6AW and injected a small microchip tag (just like the microchips dogs and cats get). After tagging, this seal spent the remainder of the day resting on the beach, departed that evening and has not been re-sighted since. Later, during photographic analysis of unique scar patterns, this seal was matched with photos from previous fieldwork in the Lehua Rock/Niihau area.

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