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Monk Seal Monday #41: R2XK

Last week, we shared the story of a Niihau-tagged monk seal. Well, this week, we have another possible Niihau monk seal. Estimated to be a three-year-old sub-adult, this seal has been sighted at PMRF on two, possibly three times–using his unique scars to identify him.

There’s always a possibility that this or other untagged monk seals that seem to go back and forth between Kauai and Niihau was actually born on Kauai. For the past two years, for example, we’ve had late-season pups born on the remote Napali Coast. Unfortunately, they don’t wean until September when seas start to kick up for winter and preclude our ability to make safe beach landings to flipper-tag.

Wherever this monk seal was born, he’s now officially known as R2XK; however, his two flipper tags are 2XK and 2KL. (Add some super sharp binoculars to your holiday gift list to help read those tags and distinguish those letters!) Because he was tagged on Kauai, his tags are red with white lettering.

Here are some photographs of the new-to-us Hawaiian monk seal.

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Monk Seal Monday #40: NG00

Often, when an unknown Hawaiian monk seal turns up on Kauai’s shoreline, it’s assumed to have ventured over from Niihau. Very few monk seals from Niihau have been flipper-tagged, so there’s really no telling. But a seal known as NG00 has been flipper-tagged, and his tag is black with light-colored lettering.

In May 2016, juvenile NG00 popped up on a Kauai beach with a fish hook in his mouth. With NOAA approval, a trained team captured him and removed the hook.

In September 2017, the public reported another monk seal with a fish hook in his mouth. The photos resembled NG00.

Then, in early January of this year, NG00 was sighted on a west side Kauai beach, and a team responded to find a fish hook (but no trailing line) stuck in the left corner of his mouth. The bad news was NG00 was hauled out on rocks–not a good location for capture. The good news was that the location of the hooking was not life-threatening. The decision was to wait until he hauled up in a safe place before intervening.

Later in January, NG00 was reported on Niihau.

He reappeared on Kauai in April, still sporting the hook in the left corner of his mouth. Even so, he was in good body condition, indicating the hook was not hampering his ability to feed. Once again, his chosen haul-out location was rocky and not safe for capture.

NG00 wasn’t reported on Kauai again until late November. This time, he was on a sand, hauled out next to another seal (3CX). The circle hook was still lodged in his cheek, and he was still in good body condition. But NG00 had also recently molted and, therefore, it was determined he would not be captured. When monk seals go through their annual molt, they spend more time on the beach resting while the top layer of skin and fur along with it falls out in patches than they spend foraging. Molting eats up energy stores, so the weeks leading up to and after a molt are usually considered hands-off.

However, in a couple weeks, if NG00 happens to haul out in a safe location, NOAA will consider intervening to remove the hook. So, in the coming weeks, if you see a freshly-molted juvenile monk seal with black flipper tags and a fish hook in his lower lip, please call the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui at 808-651-7668.

 

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Field Report: October

Monthly Update: The Kauai team reported 27 individually identified seals in October for a grand total of 203 seal sightings reported to the hotline.

October: 203
September: 199
August: 295
July: 414
June: 315
May: 332
April: 302
March: 299

New:

  • Female weanling RKA6 was sighted with a hook in her mouth along with 6-8 inches of monofilament line trailing. By the time response staff arrived, she had thrown the hook on her own.

Updates:

  • RK58 remains at Ke Kai Ola for rehabilitation, gaining weight and learning to free-feed.
  • Adult female Temp 337 who was previously reported with mobbing wounds continues to heal and is sighted occasionally on the West Side.
  • Several public reports indicate the unidentified mom/pup pair along Napali Coast are doing well. By now, pup has weaned.
  • Poipu Keiki Pool: No displacements this month.
  • Bleach markings: 1 bleach mark was applied.
  • Molting: 2 seals molted at busy beaches 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.

Hawaiian monk seals are known to haul out on sand, on rocks, and sometimes, even, on roads. However, rumor has it, this holiday season, a couple Hawaiian monk seals–we’re not sure which ones–may be making an appearance at the “Outdoor Christmas Decor and Light Display” at St. Raphael Church (3011 Hapa Road, Koloa, HI 96756).

Monk seals tend to defy schedules, but these two—we’re not sure genders—have signed up for appearances every Saturday and Sunday in December from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Stop by!

Here’s a sneak peak.

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Thanks to this stellar group of volunteers with the Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui for their dedication to monk seals on the beach–and off!

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Maui recently reported the 30th pup born in the Main Hawaiian Islands this year. Thirty pups in one year is a record for the Main Hawaiian Islands, besting the previous high mark by a whopping nine pups. Turns out, the mom, R8HE, was flipper-tagged on Kauai as a juvenile. She’s estimated to be approximately six years old. This is her first known pup.

However, last year this time, we reported:

R8HE was a juvenile when flipper-tagged here in 2014, but she’s been regularly sighted around O‘ahu and reported as far away as Hawai‘i Island. Earlier this year, she appeared pregnant but then wasn’t seen for a couple months. She popped back up looking very thin, making HMSRP suspect she’d pupped in a remote place somewhere. (This happens even in the Main Hawaiian Islands.)

This kind of movement up and down the Hawaiian Island chain isn’t unusual. Some seals do like to journey long distances while others seem to stick to a few favorite haunts.

You may recall another voyager, R8HD, who seems to be making a tour of the Main Hawaiian Islands. He was sighted on Kauai, Oahu, and Molokai this summer. R8HD’s home place made national news recently when a hurricane roared through French Frigate Shoals. Various headlines reported one of the islands in the atoll was “wiped out,” “disappeared,” or “vanished” after taking a direct hit from Hurricane Walaka in early October. They were referring to East Island, an important pupping spot for Hawaiian monk seals and nesting site for Green sea turtles.

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Photo credit: Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument/NOAA.

East Island wasn’t large by island standards in the Main Hawaiian Islands, measuring some half-mile in length and 400-feet wide before the hurricane. Now, not much remains. However, as ocean currents move sand around, there’s a chance some of the “island” will return.

The submergence of East Island wasn’t unexpected. But it was sudden, taking climate scientists by surprise. With the intensity and frequency of tropical storms and hurricanes expected to increase due to climate change, this is one way climate change is directly affecting Hawaiian monk seals today. There’s likely to be more storms like Walaka charging through the Hawaiian archipelago. And there are dozens more islands and islets the size of East Island–and smaller–on which Hawaii’s native wildlife depend for survival. In addition to entanglements with marine debris, competition for food resources, and sharks, now climate change can be added to the list of threats facing Hawaiian monk seals today.

 

 

 

 

On Friday, an email arrived on Kauai. It read: “RH92 has hauled at Kaupo Beach (Baby Makapuu) today.”

Kaupo Beach is found on Oahu.

What a surprise! Until last week, RH92 was regularly reported day after day hauling out on a narrow one-mile stretch of beach on the East Side of Kauai. Then, she made a longer trek, popping up on the South Shore. Now, she’s made the 70-mile jump over to Oahu.

Here’s a little background on the two-year-old RH92, a female.

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Photo credit: G. Langley

RH92 was born on the North Shore to RK22. A few months after weaning, some fishermen contacted DOCARE (Department of Conservation and Resources Enforcement), because a loose dog had attacked a small monk seal. An officer immediately responded, found the dog’s owner, and issued a citation. The seal, with multiple puncture wounds, turned out to be RH92 and was given antibiotics. Thankfully, her small punctures did not become infected and healed quickly.

Soon thereafter, RH92 ventured to Kauai’s East Side where, as a yearling, she began feeding on fish scraps in a canal. Because two other yearlings had drowned, possibly in nets, in the same canal in previous years, she was translocated her to the West Side of the island. Meanwhile, signs near the canal and boat launch were installed and fishers asked not to dump fish scraps in the area. Luckily, fishers complied, because RH92 quickly made her way back to the East Side within two weeks later. Since then, there’s been no problems.

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Photo credit: M. Miyashiro

Too, RH92 has an impressive scar on her head from a large cookie cutter shark bite that happened last year. At the time, it was quite startling as her skull was visible. But she quickly healed.

It’s not unusual for Hawaiian monk seals to island hop. But RH92’s decision to cross an open ocean channel for Oahu was a surprise, suggesting she possibly followed an older seal. That’s not unusual for monk seals to do, too.

On Saturday morning, October 27, 2018, volunteers from around the Main Hawaiian Islands combed beaches, scanned coastlines, and reported any monk seal sightings between 9:00 and Noon.
Here on Kauai, a total of 13 seals were sighted. The sightings break down geographically this way:
South Shore: 8
North Shore: 2
East Side: 2
West Side: 1
This is what that data looks like on a pie chart.
20181101 October Monk Seal Count Results by Region
Statewide, a total of 56 Hawaiian monk seals were reported. That breakdown by islands looks like this:
Kauai: 13
Oahu: 19
Molokai: 20
Maui/Lanai: 4
Hawaii Island: 0
And like this on a pie chart.
Oct-18 Monk Seal Count Results
Over time, this graph shows the trend line of Hawaiian monk seals reported during these Hawaiian monk seal survey counts by island.
20181101 Monk Seal Count Graph
All this data comes with a giant asterisk behind it. The seals counted in this survey are usually only those identified. That almost always means they need to be hauled out on the beach. Too, counts can vary greatly depending on how many volunteers participate. The more trained volunteers who participate, the greater coverage around the island, the more seals found and reported. At least, that’s typically the case. Shoreline accessibility is also factor. Weather, too. And oceanic events. Human safety is first and foremost and, sometimes, big surf, for example, might preclude a specific coastline from being surveyed.
And, then, there’s the monk seals themselves, who can be pretty evasive, especially, it seems, whenever we want to count them;-)