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The Kauai team logged 239 seal sightings this month. This included 28 individually identified seals.

July: 239
June: 179
May: 262
April: 348
March: 350
Feb: 303
Jan: 284

New:

  • RK30 gave birth to PK3 on July 10 at a remote site along Na Pali coast that is accessible only by water. Kayak Kauai took signs out to post in key areas nearby.
  • RK28 gave birth to PK4 on July 19 at another remote location. Pup is thriving. Two stray German Shepherds were captured running loose near the newborn pup, on the day of birth and while RH58 was in labor.
  • RH58 gave birth to PK5 on July 20 just down the coast from RK28. With permission from NOAA, the Kauai team had to intervene and cut the umbilical cord to remove the placenta, which was still attached more than nine hours after birth.

Updates:

  • RH38 was released on July 22 after transport from Ke Kai Ola aboard a USCG C-130. Since then, she’s ranged across the North Shore and the Na Pali coast in the weeks following release and has showed no signs of interest in people on the beach or in the water.
  • The first two 2019 pups, RL08 and RL52, continue to thrive and range farther from their natal sites.
  • Displacements: 2 displacements occurred this month. Both were to remove S/F R7AA from the road edge. She was displaced a third time on Aug 1 from the Lawai Beach road edge as well.
  • Molting: 3 seals were observed molting this month.
  • Vaccinations: None given this month.

Research/Support of Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center

  • Sub-sampled scat, molt, placenta, 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.

In March, after RH38 seemingly shrank to nothing more than a sad bag of bones, she was scooped up and flown to Ke Kai Ola on Hawaii Island. There, after days turned into weeks and a few tests turned into dozens, she was finally rolled into another hospital–the North Hawaii Community Hospital–for a full-body CT scan. It was the first CT scan performed on a wild Hawaiian monk seal. It was then veterinarians were finally able to turn this touch-and-go patient’s health around, and a couple weeks ago, she became the 28th patient of the monk seal hospital to be admitted and returned to the wild. (See more here.)

These are photos of RH38 on the day she was admitted to Ke Kai Ola.

When the three-and-a-half-year-old RH38 was released back on a remote Kauai beach, she looked like a completely different seal. She’d undergone a molt while she spent four-and-a-half months in rehabilitative care at Ke Kai Ola, so her coat looked like she’d taken a side visit to a monk seal spa while she was away from Kauai. She also gained weight. Lots of weight. She was released tipping the scales close to three times what she weighed when she was admitted to Ke Kai Ola.

Here’s a slide show of RH38 making her way to the water on the day of her release. Note her excellent body condition. You wouldn’t know she was the same seal–except her flipper tags prove it.

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Since her release, RH38 has been exploring some of her favorite haunts. It’s as if she’d never left. Reports of her whereabouts have come in from the public, including one of some beachgoers approaching a little too close for RH38’s liking. Any time a wild animal spends time in rehab, one concern is whether she’ll show interest in humans upon her release. In RH38’s case, she hasn’t. And that’s a good thing. Maybe she got poked and prodded a little too much at Ke Kai Ola. But this is also a good reminder to encourage people to give monk seals–and all wild animals–plenty of space. When monk seals haul out on the beach, it’s for much needed rest, so when they return to the sea, they’re sharp and alert.

There’s another way biologists track RH38’s travels, and that’s by the satellite tag attached to her back, which is standard for monk seals released after care. (It’ll stay on until she next molts, if it doesn’t fall off sooner.) This allows biologists and veterinarians to keep a remote eye on her and evaluate her behavior. Here is a sample track of RH38’s recent whereabouts.

Screen Shot 2019-08-05 at 5.33.27 PM

If you’re wondering about those red lines seemingly on land, RH38 has not evolved into a terrestrial seal. Those are poor quality fixes, typical of satellite tags with wide accuracy ranges. But you get the basic idea. The good news is RH38 has been ranging up and down the coastline in a way consistent with wild Hawaiian monk seals.

Lastly, here’s a video of her release and immediate beeline for the water.

 

Here are a few recent photos of RL52. You may recall he was born earlier this year to first-time mom RK52. In the two-and-a-half months since he weaned, he’s thinned out, as expected; however, he’s still looking good. He’s been exploring more of the North Shore but can still often be found at his natal beach.

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PC: J. Thomton

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PC: J. Thomton

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PC: J. Thomton

The other seal in the photo below is R1NS, who is looking rather plump. It’s suspected she’s only three or four years old, but that’s an estimate, since she was first tagged as a young seal in the winter of 2017. The youngest confirmed age of a monk seal to give birth is four. (That was RI15 on Molokai.) So, either R1NS is pregnant, or she’s sleeping on a rock in such a way to make us think she looks like she’s pregnant!

IMG_5489

PC: J. Thomton

 

The Kauai team logged 179 seal sightings this month (262 in May, 348 in April, 350 in March, 303 in Feb). This included 32 individually identified seals.

June: 179
May: 262
April: 348
March: 350
Feb: 303
Jan: 284

New:

  • Two male seals, RG22 and R3CX. were displaced from Poipu. (This is always done by trained personnel.)
  • Two adult seals, male RN02 and female R1KY were displaced off a beach road at the end of the Burns Field runway at Salt Pond Beach Park. Lifeguards assisted by closing the road until displacement occurred. (Again, this is only conducted with prior approval and by trained personnel.)

Updates:

  • Discussions and plans were set in place this month for the return and release of RH38 in July.
  • 2019 pups RL08 and RL52 continue to thrive at various north shore beaches.
  • Displacements: 6 displacements occurred this month. Two of these displacements were from the keiki pool, subadult male R3CX, which was his 4thdisplacement, and subadult female R7AA, which was her second displacement.
  • Molting: no seals were observed molting this month.
  • Vaccinations: Pup RL52 was given a booster vaccination this month.

Research/Support of Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC):

  • 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.

 

Predicting delivery dates of babies is hard. Without the aid of physical examinations and sonograms, it’s even harder to predict the birth dates of Hawaiian monk seals. And yet NOAA has gotten pretty darn good at it.

RK28 was expected to give birth around July 13th. She pupped on July 19th. (Note the “milk nose.” That’s one of the indicators that a pup has figured out how to nurse.)

PK4 Milk Nose

PC: VJBloy

PK4 in the Rain

PC: VJBloy

On the same day PK4 was born, two loose dogs were reported romping in the surf just down the beach from RK28 and pup. Thankfully, friendly people on the beach caught the dogs and prevented them from harming the seals. You may recall that RK28 lost a pup due to a dog(s) attack several years ago. You can read more about that tragedy here. So, this is a good opportunity to remind people not to let their dogs roam free.

One day later, RH58 gave birth to PK5.

RH58’s due date was predicted as August 1st, give or take. Instead, she pupped on July 20th. This was particularly challenging due date to estimate, since RH58, also known as Rocky, pre-weaned her pup last year after several pup-switches. You can read more about that here. But as these photos show, Rocky and pup are doing well and bonding nicely.

Rocky Napping on PK5

PC: VJBloy

PK5 and Rocky Napping

PC: VJBloy

PK5 Nursing

PC: VJBloy

 

Another one of Kauai’s regular “puppers” has added to the Hawaiian Monk Seal population.

PK3’s arrival was reported to the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui last Wednesday, July 10th. It’s not unusual for tour boat captains and kayak outfitters to alert us to new pups born in remote locations. This report came from Captain Rob. He also provided a photo, and in it, you can also see–if you squint really well–the remains of the afterbirth on the beach below the pup. This is a good indication the pup is quite young, maybe just hours old.

PK3 + K30

But the photo didn’t positively identify the mother. Based on the date and location (not identified here for the safety of the mom and pup); however, that narrowed the mother down to a couple suspected seals. Well, one, in particular.

Because the pupping site is in such a remote location, neither one of our NOAA/DLNR officials nor any of Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui volunteers were able to immediately respond to identify the mother. However, thanks to the work of one volunteer who is adept at searching social media, we now know the mother in question is none other than RK30.

It was one particular scar that confirmed RK30’s identity as the mother of PK3, as seen in an Instagram photo, that allowed her to be identified. The scar was that of an old entanglement wound from a line (rope) that once encircled her neck.

RK30 is somewhere around 20 years of age, give or take a year. She’s also one of the most storied monk seals around, having survived many threats to her life. Read more about RK30 here.

This is RK30’s 11th known pup.

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PC: @tripoverthings

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PC: @tripoverthings

Earlier this year, we reported on male competition taking places along the shoreline on Kauai’s south side. It can get pretty aggressive–and another good reason to steer clear of monk seals in the water.

Now, we want to share about another kind of aggression among monk seals. This interaction generally but not always takes place between a group of males and a single female and is called male mobbing. Like “cruising males,” the perpetrators tend to be a group of competing sub-adult males.

In 2016, RK28 was observed with large wounds and abscesses on her back. It was determined these wounds were caused by male monk seals who had attempted to mount her and while doing so, biting her repeatedly on the back. The wounds can be pretty severe and certainly disconcerting-looking to our eyes. For good reason, it turns out.

According to the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center’s website, “Events involving multiple and single adult male Hawaiian monk seals exhibiting aggression towards adult females and immature seals has led to a significant number of severe injuries and deaths. Unfortunately, the loss of even a single female, and the loss of her lifetime reproductive potential, represents a significant setback to population recovery of this endangered species.”

Luckily, RK28 went on to give birth in 2018, and she’s thought to be pregnant again this year. If so, she may pup any time now.

Last week, one of our diligent volunteers ran across a video on Instagram, presumably taken in the waters off the nearby islands of Niihau and Lehua. In the caption, tour boat captain @crazy_capt_r writes, “This was an incredible experience! This is a very dramatic scene of the Hawaiian monk seal’s [sic] mating. In the video there are 9 males vying to mate with 1 female. She slips away from one male only to be grabbed by one of the other males waiting nearby. This is only a partial video of the whole ordeal. This went on for at least 30 minutes before they dispersed into deeper water.”

Here’s a link to the video. Warning: it might be disturbing to some people.

Tracy Mercer with the Hawaiian Monk Seal Science Team reviewed the video and confirmed the behavior is more consistent with male mobbing than mating. She also reported that she’s seen many females on Niihau with the scars from mobbing events. So, it’s not all that unusual, especially in pockets of the population when males greatly outnumber females. In fact, there have been instances over the years in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, where approximately 85 percent of the species’ population resides, that have led to the demise of enough females to cause NOAA to intervene.

Also from the NOAA PIFSC website:

Over an 11 year period from 1984-1994, 37 male seals were selectively removed from Laysan Island to restore a balanced sex ratio. These seals were translocated to Johnston Atoll (n=9) or the main Hawaiian Islands (n=21), placed into captivity (n=5), or died (n=2). Following removal, instances of injury or death from multiple male aggression events drastically declined. The removal of these males from the Laysan Island population has contributed to the restoration of a balanced sex ratio and has proven a valuable mitigation strategy.

Single male aggression events have most notably occurred at French Frigate Shoals and more recently at Kure Atoll. Intervention efforts include hazing of identified aggressors, translocating pups from areas where aggressive males frequent, treating injured seals when appropriate and removal of the adult male. The 3 adult males at French Frigate Shoals observed to repeatedly target pups, were translocated to Johnston Atoll (n=2 in 1998) or euthanized (n=1 in 1991). One adult male was brought into permanent captivity in 2013 after he had been observed injuring pups at Kure Atoll. This mitigation strategy effectively reduced pup deaths as a result of adult male aggression at this site.

But here’s the interesting thing. Tracy also reported the actual mating behavior and practices of Hawaiian monk seals is a bit of a mystery. Presumably it takes place in the water, not on land. In the numerous decades of Hawaiian monk seal research, no one on staff with the Hawaiian Monk Seal Science Team has witnessed the actual mating of monk seals. A few non-staff people have reported mating taking place nearshore. But that hasn’t been scientifically confirmed.

To read more about adult male aggression, click here. And if you see a female with fresh wounds on her back, please report it to the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal hotline at 808-651-7668. This will allow the animal’s health to be assessed. If the injuries are severe, she may be treated with antibiotics to prevent the wounds from becoming infected. Then again, Hawaiian monk seals have an amazing natural ability to heal. We’ve seen it time and again.