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PK1 will make four weeks old this Thursday. In that time, she’s grown and grown. She’s swimming for longer and longer periods of time, and she’s holding her breath for greater amounts of time. On the beach, in addition to her size, what’s evident is she’s starting to molt her natal coat.

All the while, Mom is still looking quite large. The question now is just how long RB00 will hang around before weaning her pup. 

Here’s a photo review of the growth of PK1:

The Kauai team logged 248 seal sightings this month. This included 27 individually identified seals.

  • May: 248
  • April: 294
  • March: 292
  • February: 233
  • January: 233
  • December: 267
  • November: 168
  • October: 229
  • September: 251
  • August: 213
  • July: 286
  • June: 218
  • May: 209

New:

·       RB00 gave birth to female pup PK1 on May 26. This is the 4th consecutive year of pupping on Kauai for RB00. Pup watch schedule established; no issues so far. The pup is thriving.

Updates:

·       Monk seal activity in the Poipu area remains high, with several seals hauled out daily on the very busy Poipu Beaches. 

·       Numerous displacements from the Poipu Keiki pool again this month

Molting: 1 seal completed a molt this past month. 

Displacements: It was a busy month with 4 additional displacements from the keiki pool. There were many seals in the Poipu area socializing, mounting, and playing together all day long. It was primarily subadult males that were the issue. The following seals were displaced:

·       R371 adult female – 2 times

·       R1KY adult female – 1 time

·       RF28 adult male – 1 time

Volunteers:

·       Volunteers are stretched thin with so many seals requiring intensive management at Poipu. We will continue to recruit additional new volunteers.

·       Volunteer pup watch schedule has been established and includes one 3-hour shift each day.

In the early morning hours of Thursday, May 26, a robust RB00 gave birth to Kauai’s first pup of the year on a remote North Shore beach.

PC: K. Rogers

Fifteen-year-old RB00 was born on Kauai but lives on Hawaii Island most of the year. For the past four consecutive years, she has returned to her natal island of Kauai to give birth to her own pups. Her previous Kauai pups are all thriving and include RL08, RM36, and RP32.

PK1 (Pup Kauai-1) has been out swimming for 30-45 minute sessions. RB00 is an attentive mother who keeps a close eye on her pup and methodically presents for nursing bouts. Males have been reported to make stop-by visits (RN30 has made several) and RB00 routinely responds with open-mouthed vocalizing.

More than 20 telephoto, close-up, ventral photographs taken from slightly different angles show PK1’s piko (navel) but no penile opening, indicating PK is female!

PC: J. Thomton

On May 13, a Malama Na Honu volunteer called the hotline at dusk to report a large female green sea turtle hauling onto the beach was entangled with a fishing lure. Photos revealed a large orange bobber with trailing monofilament line was cutting into the turtle’s right fore-flipper. Unfortunately, it was too late in the day–too dark–to respond. Based on the photos, NOAA’s Marine Turtle Stranding Program determined intervention was likely necessary.

PC: C. Keesee

On May 18, the turtle was sighted again, this time without the bobber. But a deep wound remained and monofilament line was encircling and strangulating the flipper. It was determined that surgery was needed to treat the wound and save the limb. NOAA’s Marine Turtle Stranding Program organized transport to the Maui Ocean Center where radiographs revealed a pathological fracture, requiring amputation of the flipper. Follow-up care and rehabilitation should result in the eventual release of this turtle. Amazingly, sea turtles adjust to missing a flipper and can swim and move on the beach with three flippers.

This past weekend a visitor reported a basking turtle with a fishing lure and two small treble hooks caught on the neck of a large honu. It was determined the lure with small hooks was not life-threatening, but the trailing monofilament line could entangle and strangle the neck and/or limbs, and a fisherman on the scene was able to remove the line. NOAA has a Fishing Around Sea Turtle (FAST)program for fishermen to cut away fishing lines in an effort to prevent deadly entanglements. Hopefully in the next few days, this honu will reappear for the team to respond and remove the lure. 

PC: D. Warden

Yesterday, a fisherman called the hotline to report hooking a large sea turtle with a barbless hook and that the line broke with about 10” of trailing line. When fishermen can not bring the turtle to shore or a boat to remove the fishing lines, it’s recommended (with a turtle or seal!) to call the stranding hotline at 1-888-256-9840. The stranding network can trigger a search for the entangled animal to prevent injury and/or death.

Maui Ocean Center Turtle hospital: 

http://mocmarineinstitute.org/swimfree/sea-turtle-rescue/

FAST program:

https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/pacific-islands/resources-fishing/fishing-around-seals-and-turtles

Monthly Update: The Kauai team logged 294 seal sightings this month. This included 26 individually identified seals.

  • April: 294
  • March: 292
  • February: 233
  • January: 233
  • December: 267
  • November: 168
  • October: 229
  • September: 251
  • August: 213
  • July: 286
  • June: 218
  • May: 209
  • April: 155

New:

·       Monk seal activity in the Poipu area remains high, with several seals hauled out daily on the very busy Poipu Beaches. 

Updates:

·       New subadult male with bleach mark V11 (temporary ID of V11) is exhibiting concerning behavior by approaching people in the water within three feet, with an obvious interest in humans and no signs of fear. Displacements from the keiki pool in Poipu by staff also revealed the seal has very little fear of humans, but instead boldly approaches crowding boards. Update: this seal was displaced from the keiki pool four times in April and continues to show very little fear of humans. Will continue to closely monitor this seal.

Molting: One seal completed a molt last month at Poipu, a challenging location to manage. 

Displacements: It was a very busy month with 12 displacements from the keiki pool. There were many seals in the Poipu area socializing, mounting, and playing together all day long. Several subadult males showed very little fear or reaction to displacement, specifically RK58 and V11. The following seals were displaced:

·       V11 subadult male – four times

·       RK58 subadult male – four times

·       Temp 609 subadult male – one time

·       RF28 adult male – one time

·       RM28 juvenile female – two times

On the flipper heels of last week’s news that the Hawaiian monk seal population surpassed 1,500 (1,570 to be exact) for the first time in 20 years, several female Hawaiian monk seals rolled out of the ocean and galumphed ashore on Kauai looking rather plump. Plump as in possibly pregnant. And, no, these three were not included in Monday, April 25th’s update in these digital pages. (Because, apparently, once you publish something, new facts like monk seals emerge!)

Here they are:

RK42 with yearling RP20 for size perspective. PC: M. Olry

RK42 was born in 2018 and sighted only once or twice in the two subsequent years and not at all in 2021. Then, she popped up in March earlier this year and again last week at Mahaulepu. She might spend most of her time at Kipu Kai, but, who knows, could be Niihau, too. RK42 is the daughter of one-time regular “pupper” RK13, who–up there in age–hasn’t been sighted for about a year. It’s good to know RK13’s offspring survives, looking all grown up and quite healthy. Who knows, although a little young, maybe she’ll pup later this year.

R7GM talking to RN30. PC: M. Olry

R7GM is another seal who hasn’t been reported much in recent years (and not at all this year) only to be sighted this weekend looking large and in charge (as she reminds adult male RN30). R7GM was tagged as an adult. There’s no record of her pupping on Kauai, likely heading to Niihau when it’s time to give birth.

RK14. PC: M. Olry

RK14 regularly hauls out on the north shore and is not averse to rocky substrates for naptime. She is unusual, because she only has three teats, instead of the regular four. That and a natural bleach mark on her head help identify her. RK14 has been sighted in the past with a pup on Niihau. Possibly pushing 20 years of age, RK14 has been instrumental in helping boost the population of Hawaiian monk seals to record levels in recent years.

Last week, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) reported the fifth Hawaiian monk seal pup born on Oahu this year. Lesley Macpherson of the DLNR Division of State Parks captured the birth on video.

DLNR also reported new mom RH92 gave birth to her first-born pup, PO4, on or around April 14. RH92 was born to RK22 in May 2016. Shortly after weaning, a fisherman witnessed a dog attack her. Luckily, the puncture wounds weren’t deep; however, she was given antibiotics to stave off any possible infection. Then, she started feeding off scraps at a boat harbor, so she was translocated to a remote beach elsewhere on the island. Except that she returned to the boat harbor within a couple weeks. Luckily, an outreach campaign and regular law enforcement patrols reduced the amount of fishing scraps, and RH92 left the immediate area, foraging more widely. In November 2018, at the young age of two-and-a-half, RH92 made the open-ocean crossing to Oahu where she has been regularly sighted ever since.

On Kauai, there are several females who have pupped on the island in recent years:

  • RB00: A recent regular “pupper” on Kauai, RB00’s due date is predicted to be May 1. She was born on Kauai but spends her days on/off Hawaii Island and typically rolls onto a Kauai beach on the north shore a day or two before giving birth.
  • R400, also a regular pupper on Kauai. She pupped at Polihale last year in mid-June.
  • The prolific RH58 took last year off and did not pup. At this point, she has not been confirmed to be pregnant.
  • RK22 last known pupping event was 2017. She’s rarely sighted, presumably spending her days at Niihau.
  • RK28, another traveler, she has not been sighted recently.
RB00

Umami: It’s often called the fifth taste, completing the list that includes sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. The word comes from the Japanese, translating to “pleasant savory taste.” Umami has also been described as “brothy” or “meaty.” 

Humans have taste receptors that recognize various compounds as umami. Turns out, pinnipeds do not. It could be because pinnipeds—a group that includes Hawaiian monk seals–have a tendency to ingest food whole, bypassing the whole taste thing.

Hawaiian monk seals also have a bifurcated tongue. That is, it splits at the tip with the two folds slightly overlapping.

But why are the tongues of Hawaiian monk seals bifurcated? What biological advantage would such a tongue offer?

In general, the tongue has multiple functions: mastication, food gathering, prey processing, transport, swallowing, and taste.

Jamie Thomton, Kauai Marine Mammal Response Coordinator for NOAA says, “If I had to guess why pinnipeds tongues are bifurcated, [I would say,] to aid in creating suction for foraging, and to assist with manipulating prey items in their mouths. 

The pinniped tongue is thick and muscular. According to a recent scientific paper, “This morphology differs from the narrow, thin tongues found in many terrestrial carnivores.” That likely indicates the tongue is an important component in pinniped biology.

The study cited above supports Thomton’s well-educated guess. The study further states, “Aquatic mammals are often unable to pin down prey and cannot use inertial feeding effectively underwater. As a result, many aquatic mammals, like pinnipeds, grab prey with their teeth (biting) or use the tongue (and hyoid) to draw prey into the mouth (suction). The tongue is then used to manipulate prey and move prey to the back of the throat so that it can swallow prey whole with little to no processing. The tongue of many aquatic mammals has therefore been modified and plays a critical role in generating suction pressures for prey transport and intraoral prey transport.” 

Unfortunately, it’s hard to see the tip of a Hawaiian monk seal’s tongue in the wild. Here’s a clip from a captive monk seal—and it’s still almost impossible to see!

Monthly Update: 

The Kauai team logged 292 seal sightings this month. This included 33 individually identified seals.

  • March: 292
  • February: 233
  • January: 233
  • December: 267
  • November: 168
  • October: 229
  • September: 251
  • August: 213
  • July: 286
  • June: 218
  • May: 209
  • April: 155
  • March: 137

New:

·       Monk seal activity in the Poipu area remains high with several seals hauled out daily on the very busy Poipu Beaches. 

·       New subadult male with bleach mark V11 (temporary ID of V11) is exhibiting concerning behavior by approaching people in the water with an obvious interest in humans and no signs of fear. Two displacements from Keiki Pool by staff also revealed the seal has no fear of humans, but instead boldly approaches crowding boards. Will continue to closely monitor this seal.

Molting: 1 seal completed a molt last month at Poipu, a challenging location to manage. The seal remained hauled-out overnight for 32 days and continues to remain in the Poipu area for much of the day.

Displacements: 3 seals were displaced from the Poipu Keiki Pool, per the management plan.

Volunteers

·       Held a new volunteer training for the first time since the pandemic began, trained 7 new volunteers.

·       The volunteer program has slowly transitioned from spot-checks to partial coverage of seals in busy areas, such as Poipu. This transition will continue to pre-pandemic style scheduled shifts in the Poipu area. However, outreach to the public is still a low priority and volunteers are instructed to monitor seals and the SRA from a moderate distance, rather than at the edge of the zone. In most other areas of the island, volunteers will respond to assess the seal, take photos, set signs, and then depart. 

·       The state requirement for volunteers to be vaccinated is no longer in effect, thus all volunteers are allowed to respond.

A few weeks ago, a subadult Humpback whale was sighted off Na Pali Coast, floating stationary in the water, head down, the tip of its fluke visible above the waterline. At first, boat crews were concerned the whale was injured or entangled, however, no entangling gear was present, and no wounds were visible. During the ensuing weeks the same whale (confirmed by photographs of its fluke and various body scars) was seen in the same position–fluke just visible above the waterline–close to shore near Port Allen, Makahuena Point, Anahola, Kipu Kai, and in Hanamaulu a mere 30 yards from the pier. Dennis Fujimoto took photos and wrote this short piece in TGI.

Jamie Thomton, Kauai Marine Mammal Response Coordinator with NOAA, observed the whale and reported it was is in good body condition with no signs of injury. Its pattern of behavior was to pose in a vertical position for about 10 minutes, then back to normal logging/breathing position for 10 minutes, repeat. There have been no further sightings. 

Turns out, this behavior, while rarely seen in Humpback whales, is common in Southern right whales, according to this article in the UK’s Daily Mail, and it’s called “tail-sailing.” Scientists aren’t 100 percent certain why whales tail-sail, but it could have something to do with thermoregulation, suggests Ed Lyman Ed Lyman, Resource Protection Specialist for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, is quoted in the article. But, he says, it’s not necessarily a posture for navigation as the word, “sail” may indicate.

This is just a reminder that there’s much we don’t know about marine mammals. It’s always good to report unusual behavior. In this case, while unusual, it was normal.