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We’ve shared details of a monk seal’s annual molt before; however, we’ve never had such good imagery of the near day-by-day progress. Until now. Thanks to a long-time dedicated volunteer named Gary. Thanks, Gary!

What a transformation of RN44.

With the month-long government shutdown, this report is a tad late. Apologies.

Year End Monk Seal Management Stats for 2018:

  • Grand sightings total:
    • 3,253 or 8.9/day monk seal sightings on Kauai 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: 60 unique individual seals sighted in 2018 (60 in 2017, 56 in 2016, 53 in 2015, 47 in 2014)
  • Births: 7 total born on Kauai (1 stillborn) and 4 or 5 more Kauai females likely pupped on Niihau
  • Mortalities: no observed mortalities in 2018, however 1 pup was stillborn to first time mother RK52.
  • Niihau Seals: sighted 9 new seals in 2018 (12 in 2017, 6 in 2016, 14 in 2015) likely from Niihau
    • The Kauai team flipper tagged 2 of these.
  • Displacements: 19 total displacements occurred
    • 4 displacements from unsafe or unsuitable locations (R7AA from roads and sidewalks).
    • 15 displacements from Poipu Keiki Pool.
  • Vaccination for morbillivirus efforts:
    • 3 seal pups were fully vaccinated on Kauai.
  • Bleach marking effort:
    • 15 bleach marks were applied

Stranding Responses in 2017:

  • 3 monk seal stranding responses:
    • R376 – a large spinous fish bone was removed from mouth. Seal had lost significant weight due to inability to forage. Seal has since recovered body condition.
    • RK42 – large circle hook removed from weaned pup’s mouth. Pup was not sighted again since day of de-hoooking.
    • RK58 – brought into captivity at Ke Kai Ola for rehab after multiple pup swaps and eventual abandonment by mother seal RK58. Seal to be returned to Kauai for release in Feb, 2019.

December’s Monthly Update:
The Kauai team logged 153 seal sightings in December 2018. This included 26 individually identified seals.

  • Dec: 153
  • Nov: 145
  • Oct: 203
  • Sep: 199
  • Aug: 295
  • July: 414

New:
Flipper tagged two new seals, both subadult males. One tagged as R2XK the other as R8HT.

Updates:

  • RK58 remains at Ke Kai Ola for rehabilitation and is now free-feeding and gaining weight.
  • Poipu Keiki Pool: No displacements this month
  • Bleach markings: 4 bleach marks were applied.
  • Molting: 2 seals molted this month.

Research/Support of 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.

 

We’re not quite half-way through the first month of the new year, and already the public and volunteers have reported 133 Hawaiian monk seal sightings on Kauai.

In the past few days, several reports have come from Poipu Beach of several seals “cruising” the coastline.

f28 swimmingIt’s hard to positively identify monk seals when they’re in the water; however, this kind of behavior is consistent with males–particularly subordinate males who are looking for females. (There could some anthropomorphic comparisons to teen boys here, if you’d like.)

This behavior of repeatedly swimming up and down the same stretch of beach can go on for 20 to 30 minutes without the males ever hauling out of the water.

For beachgoers, especially at busy Poipu Beach, this behavior can be concerning. One person who called the hotline reporting three cruisers feared the crowds of people on the beach were preventing the seals from hauling out; however, that was likely not the case. When males are cruising, they are on a mission. They are not looking for a comfy place to nap.

Hawaiian monk seals are wild animals–carnivorous wild animals. For safety sake, it’s not a great idea to swim or snorkel among them. This can make a swim at the beach challenging, especially if there are three males swimming laps for 30 minutes offshore at the very spot you want to take a dip in the water.

rk28-cynthia-sterlingIf a female does show up, groups of cruising males could lead to what’s known as “male mobbing,” especially if the female is younger, too. We’ve had females turn up with wounds on their backs due to this very behavior. As this photo below illustrates, some of the wounds can look quite disturbing, but remember monk seals have an amazing capacity to heal.

Another way to view the cruisers is that the drive to reproduce is actively at work–and that’s a necessary component to the recovery of the species.

 

Late last year, the news media got hold of an Hawaiian monk seal story that made headlines around the country. And it wasn’t about a monk seal pup being born on Waikiki Beach. It wasn’t about a hurricane that sunk an island in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument–an island on which monk seals regularly pup. No, this headline news story was about an eel that got stuck up the nose of Hawaiian monk seal.

Sound painful? Check out the photo:

screen shot 2019-01-07 at 9.00.18 pm

PC: Brittany Dolan/NOAA Fisheries

As most followers of this website know, Hawaiian monk seals forage by sticking their noses in the nooks and crannies of coral reefs and by digging their heads under rocks and flipping them over. They do this to shake loose the kind of food they like to eat–octopus, lobster, flat fish, and, yes, eels.

A few years ago, a field biologist on a remote island in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument reported a length of eel sticking out of a juvenile monk seal’s nose. After consulting with the lead veterinarian with the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program, it was decided intervention would be helpful. The seal was restrained and the lifeless eel removed. No one was quite sure what had happened, but the seal turned out to be fine.

In subsequent years, a few more Hawaiian monk seals have appeared with eels hanging out of their noses. Theories on how the eels ended up in such unfortunate locations vary. One is that in a defensive maneuver, the eel swam up the seal’s nose. Another theory suggests that seal swallowed the seal and then, for some reason, regurgitated the eel by way of the nose.

Yet eels are not considered a threat to Hawaiian monk seals. Only a few of these incidents have been recorded. But there’s really no way of knowing how often it happens.

No reports of similar eel events have been recorded in the Main Hawaiian Islands. However, Hawaiian monk seals on Kauai have gotten themselves in some disconcerting situations involving their noses.

One got a styrofoam cup stuck on his face. During a NOAA-approved attempt at intervention, the seal shook the cup off his face before our NOAA coordinator laid a single finger on him.

Hawaiian monk seal and marine debris

Photo credit: Mary Werthwine

But another seal wasn’t able to shake a plastic cone off his nose by himself. Thankfully, NOAA was there once again to help.

RK54.Susan Johnson

Photo credit: S. Johnson

In light of an enormous amount of publicity received by the monk seal with an eel up the nose, NOAA released this video of the numerous other interventions they conduct in an effort to save Hawaiian monk seals from extinction.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FHMSRP%2Fvideos%2F2195470887374741%2F&show_text=1&width=560

Happy holidays from RK90, your very pregnant sleepy Hawaiian monk seal.

IMG_4836

It’s starting to look a lot like RK90 is pregnant again. She looked much like this last year this time. Then, she disappeared only to re-appear on Kauai in mid-February. It’s presumed she pupped on Niihau–her first known pupping event–which is a good indication that she herself was born there.

RK90 first appeared on Kauai as a juvenile in 2013 with a fish hook in her mouth. It was removed, and at the same time she was flipper-tagged. In May 2017, she turned up again with a large fish hook sticking out of her mouth. It, too, was removed successfully.

In February of this year, RK90 hauled out at the keiki pool in Poipu and was displaced. (Please remember displacements require skilled training and, as always, prior approval from NOAA. Please never attempt this on your own. But please do call the hotline (808-651-7668) when/if you find a monk seal in the Poipu Keiki Pool.)

This past summer, RK90 was repeatedly sighted with R6FQ, a seven year-old-male.

Now, the question is where will RK90 pup this time. She likes to haul out on the south shore and west side, so keep an eye out for her and call the hotline if you see any monk seals with a pup. However, there’s a good chance RK90 will make the 17-mile journey across the Kaulakahi channel to pup on Niihau again.

Here’s a series of recent photos of RK90. This series also happens to provide a good representation of photographs to take when you come across a monk seal on the beach–providing images of all sides (front, rear, belly, back) for NOAA to identify the seal and make a visual health assessment.

Happy holidays!

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Monthly Update: The Kauai team reported 28 individually identified seals in November for a grand total of 145 seal sightings reported to the hotline.

November: 145
October: 203
September: 199
August: 295
July: 414
June: 315
May: 332
April: 302
March: 299

New:

  • Juvenile female R7AA was disturbed by a leashed barking dog at Salt Pond Beach Park and left the area.
  • A seal was harassed at Mahaulepu by group of men making noises at it to elicit a response. They were also playing football very near the seal. The seal left the beach due to the disturbance; however, hauled out again later after the men were gone. The disturbance was witnessed and reported by a member of the public.

Updates:

  • Update: RK58 remains at Ke Kai Ola for rehabilitation. RK58 is now free feeding and gaining weight.
  • Sub-adult male NG00 hauled out at Poipu with the circle hook still in his lip. The original hooking occurred in Sept of 2017. The seal is in excellent body condition, but had just finished molting and was therefore not captured for de-hooking.
  • Poipu Keiki Pool: RK13 was displaced this month. That was her fourth displacement in 2 years. (Remember, this only happens with NOAA approval and by trained individuals.)
  • Bleach markings: 4 bleach marks were applied.
  • Molting: 2 seals molted this month.

Research/Support of 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.

 

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 2XL. (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.

IMG_4802IMG_4801IMG_4799IMG_4798IMG_4797IMG_4796IMG_4795IMG_4794