The winter of 2017 has turned out to be busy for the Kauai HMS Conservation Hui.
In January a new juvenile female seal was sighted. She has what appears to be a healed cookie cutter shark bite behind her left eye. She also has a pit scar on her right mid side. She was originally sighted on Ni’ihau and is officially R347.
In February five more juvenile female seals were sighted. Four of them were bleach marked and/or flipper tagged, so we can track and monitor them, especially since several of them are fairly clean of scars or natural bleach marks can often be used to identify untagged seals.
One with a faint scar behind her left eye was entered into the monk seal registry as R351 and bleach marked V73. A week later, using her bleach mark to identify her, she turned up on Molokai.
A youngish female popped up on the east shore several times, with a distinguishable natural bleach mark on the tips of her left fore flipper. She was flipper tagged and is now 1NS.
On the west shore, a juvenile female was bleached V75 and flipper tagged as 1KM.
Two more female yearlings were found on the west shore, one of which was bleached as V2.
In February, RN02, a subadult male who was translocated from Big Island to Niihau in 2013 after he repeatedly interacted aggressively with swimmers, was sighted with blood near his mouth. A visual examination revealed a small hook and approximately six inches of monofilament fishing line along his gum line. Consultation was made with a marine mammal vet, and it was determined the hook would likely loosen and fall out on its own. Thus, no intervention was deemed necessary at the time.
Sadly, a well-known Kauai seal was found dead in late February. R4DP, a female, was approximately 15 years old. She was first tagged on Kauai in 2008. That same year she was flown to Oahu for examination for suspected ingestion of a fish hook. Upon examination, no hook was found, and she was returned to Kauai and released. Unfortunately, after necropsy, it was determined R4DP’s injuries were inconsistent with natural causes. Thus, as a marine mammal protected by the Endangered Species Act, her death is being investigated by law enforcement officials.
This is the 11th “suspicious death” of a monk seal since 2009, and the first since 2014. Anyone having information related to the death of R4DP or any other suspected monk seal death should call the NOAA OLE hotline at 1-800-853-1964 or DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) at (808) 873-3990 or 643-DLNR.
2016 Pup Update:
Weaned pup updates RH80 continues to appear on the north and east coasts of Kauai, looking healthy. Also, for the first time since she was flipper tagged last summer, RH38 popped up on the North Shore, also looking healthy.
RH92 is looking good, too, although she turned up with a cookie cutter shark bite on the right side of her head. Though it is the usual 3” circular wound, it appears very large on her small head and looks deep. Fortunately the bite missed vital structures of her eye and ear. Monk seals have an amazing capacity to heal from large wounds on their own. RH92 is healing fine, and the wound will likely shrink to a small pit scar. Of greater concern for RH92 is that she was found for the first time hanging out near a small boat landing, foraging and eating a fish, likely scraps tossed out by fishermen. This is a good reminder not to throw fish and scraps into the water, especially if a seal is present.