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It’s not uncommon for monk seals from Niihau–where they aren’t tagged–to venture over to Kauai. Earlier this month, an untagged Hawaiian monk seal male showed up on the north shore, hanging out in the same general area for seven straight days, and it was assumed he was from Niihau. Volunteers managed to take pictures pinpointing several unique scars that should have made it easy to identify him. But his scars didn’t match any such seals in the NOAA database, and he was given the identification of R406. Then, seemingly as soon as he appeared, he disappeared, presumably back to Niihau. But last week, he was sighted hauled out on the shores of Oahu. Is this just the beginning of his journey? Or did his journey start farther northwest of Niihau? And where will he venture next? At least, he’s now well identified and logged in the database.

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Monthly Update: The Kauai team logged 180 seal sightings this month. This included 32 individually identified seals.

December: 180
November: 223
October: 258
September: 203
August: 324
July: 239
June: 179
May: 262
April: 348
March: 350
Feb: 303
Jan: 284

New:

  • Subadult female R7AA was sighted with a medium sized circle hook in her left cheek. The Kauai team responded and were able to capture her on the beach and remove the hook without complications. A 2-foot heavy gauge monofilament leader and pigtail swivel was attached to the hook which presented a serious entanglement and drowning hazard. The seal was immediately released and has been sighted since with no signs of infection.
  • An untagged adult female that has not been sighted on Kauai previously hauled out at Poipu and has since become a somewhat regular seal on the south shore. This seal was previously sighted on Niihau in 2017 with a pup and has an ID of R371. She has numerous scars and can be easily identified, even without flipper tags.
  • Another untagged Niihau adult female was sighted for the first time on Kauai’s north shore. Her ID is R367.
  • Another untagged likely Niihau seal molted at a remote east side beach. He is a new seal to Kauai and has a temp ID of Temp361.
  • Yearling RL58 observed with a large fresh cookie cutter shark bite very close to the genital slit. The seal was closely monitored for possible infection, and the seal has quickly recovered.
  • A volunteer observed a tourist attempt to pet the large adult female RK90 at a west side beach. The seal responded by leaving the beach. Outreach was conducted by the volunteer.

Updates:

  • RH38, the seal rehabbed at KKO and released in July, continues to thrive on north shore. Her tracking tag remains attached, however the battery has died so no further data is being transmitted.
  • All of the 6 pups born this year have been sighted recently and continue to thrive.
  • Displacements: No displacements this month.
  • Molting: Adult male RN02 spent 3 weeks at the busy Poipu Beach in pre-molt, molt, and post-molt which required extensive volunteer coverage. One other seal molted this month in less busy areas.
  • Vaccinations: A booster morbillivirus vaccine was given to new juvenile seal R1NI.
  • Bleach marking: none 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.

Here’s some year-end data that might make for some interesting reading and analysis the next time you’re at the beach. So, have at it!

Grand sightings total:

o   3,154 or 8.9/day monk seal sightings on Kauai in 2019

o   3,253 or 8.9/day in 2018

o   3,621 or 9.9/day in 2017

o   3,236 or 8.9/day in 2016

o   3,321 or 9.1/day in 2015

o   2,516 or 6.9/day in 2014

Kauai population:

o   67 unique individual seals sighted on Kauai in 2019

o   60 in 2018

o   60 in 2017

o   56 in 2016

o   53 in 2015

o   47 in 2014)

Other stats:

  • Births: 6 total born on Kauai.
  • Mortalities: one confirmed mortality in 2019 and one suspected.
  • Niihau Seals: sighted a minimum of 5 new seals in 2019 likely from Niihau.The Kauai team flipper-tagged 2 of these.
  • Displacements: 21 total displacements occurred.

o   15 displacements from unsafe or unsuitable locations (boat ramps, beach roads, sidewalks, etc).
o   6 displacements from the Poipu Keiki Pool.

  • Vaccination for morbillivirus efforts:

o   4 seal pups and 1 new juvenile seal were fully vaccinated on Kauai.

  • Bleach marking effort:

o   9 bleach marks were applied

Stranding Responses in 2019:

  • 7 monk seal stranding responses:

o   RH38 – captured and transported to Ke Kai Ola for rehabilitation. The seal was emaciated due to unspecified blunt trauma to the rear flippers resulting in a systemic infection and a cascade of medical complications. The seal recovered and was released back on Kauai.

o   RKA6 – captured on the beach and a large circle hook was removed from the mouth.

o   NG00 – captured on the beach and a large circle hook was removed from the right cheek. The seal had been hooked for over 2 years but was never sighted in a location safe for capture and handling.

o   R7AA – captured on the beach and a medium size circle hook was removed from the left cheek.

o   Unknown adult carcass – discovered on Niihau and transported to Kauai for partial necropsy.

o   RH58 and pup – assisted pup by cutting the umbilical cord which remained attached to the placenta. This posed a hazard to the pup near the wave wash which could have pulled the pup out to sea.

o   Adult Female – closely monitored and evaluated for emaciation in the months after weaning her pup. The seal most likely died of natural causes and old age.

The numbers are tallied. Below you’ll find the top ten “reported” Hawaiian monk seals on Kauai for 2019. By reported, we mean those monk seals that were reported—and identified—to the Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui hotline. (See a monk seal on the beach? Report it to 808-651-7668.)

Keep in mind, many things affect this list. Monk seals often have favorite locations where they haul out. If a monk seal favors a location that happens to be easily accessible by humans, bingo, that seal will be reported more often to the hotline. Of course, monk seal moms and their pups rack up a high number of reported sightings, because they stick to the same beach for weeks on end. Molting monk seals, too. As this list will also reveal, young monk seals–especially young males–are often sighted and reported, too, because they tend to make themselves noticed;-)

To make this list a little more interesting, we’ve included only those tagged seals, meaning pups are not included until they are weaned and tagged.

So, here goes:

  1. With 122 reported sightings, five-year-old male R3CX tops our list. He was flipper-tagged as a youngster at Keoneloa (colloquially known as Shipwrecks) beach in March 2015. Since then, he’s been commonly seen roughhousing with other males along the south shore and has been displaced from dangerous areas on more than one occasion. He was last seen on November 30th at Poipu.
  2. With 117 reported sightings, four-year-old male RG58 follows close behind. Not surprising since they can both be found hauled out on the same beach or roughhousing in shallow water. Born to RH58 in 2015 on the north shore, RG58 is regularly sighted on the south shore. He was last reported today at Poipu.
  3. With 116 reported sightings, six-year-old female R7GM ranks third. Those numbers were boosted by the fact that she molted this year. She was last reported on the north shore on December 27th.
  4. With 99 reported sightings, six-year-old male RN44 ranks fourth this year, also boosted by his reported molting. RN44 was born to RH58 in 2013 on the north shore where he’s a regular and has been reported interacting with weaners. He was last reported on the north shore on December 27th.
  5. With 97 reported sightings, mature female RK13 ranks fifth this year, boosted in her numbers by her molt. Most of the sightings come from the east side; however, she sometimes pops up on the south and west side of the island. She’s also been known to swim up and log in canals. This year, RK13 was displaced from the road edge at Fuji Beach, Kapaa at 3:00 in the morning after calls from the police reported she was on the road’s edge and in danger of being run over. RK13 was reported today to be hauled out on the east side.
  6. With 77 reported sightings, sub-adult, four-year-old male RG22 ranks sixth. He was born to RK22 on the north shore but quickly made his way to the south shore, hanging out with the boys on the south shore. Once, he was photographed wearing a pair of swim goggles around his neck. Luckily, they fell off after a couple days. He was last reported on the south shore on October 10th but has since started to wander and was recently sighted off Hawaii Island.
  7. With 73 reported sightings, mature female RK30 ranks seventh. She’s approximately 21 years old and has given birth to 11 known pups, including RL30 this year. She was last seen on November 8th at Mahaulepu.
  8. With 68 reported sightings, one-year-old female RKA2 ranks eighth. She was born on a remote beach along Na Pali Coast in 2018 to RK30. She was last reported on December 20th on the east side.
  9. With 62 reported sightings, eight-year-old female RK52 ranks ninth. Her sightings are bolstered by two things: she weaned her first pup this year, and she was reported molting. RK52 favors north shore beaches. She was born to RH58 and was last reported on a north shore beach on December 22nd.
  10. With 58 reported sightings, three-year-old female R1NS rounds out our top ten list. She was flipper-tagged on the east side in 2017 and is notable for her natural bleach marks on the first three digits of her left fore flipper. She was last sighted on the north shore on December 29th.

This week: a little more about ulua and slide-bait fishing.

The giant trevally, or ulua as it’s called in Hawaii, is the most sought-after shoreline game fish in the islands. Because they are one of the strongest fighters in the ocean, they require great skill and specialized gear to land, and only expert shore casters attempt it, usually from atop cliffs using large surf-casting reels and rods up to 14 feet long.

Giant trevally average about 25 pounds in weight; however, many can exceed 150 pounds. The Hawaii state fishing record is a giant at 191 pounds landed off Lahaina, Maui in 1980. Ulua are known as top predators found on coral reefs across the Indo-Pacific region. Ulua belong to a family known as “jacks,” and are frequently seen at drop-offs or near reefs.

According to the Maui Ocean Center website, “The Giant trevally or White ulua is commonly observed in schools or as solitary individuals, on occasion, near shore. They have a distinct steep profile head and a black spot at the base of the pectoral fin that distinguishes this species from other in the same genus. Courting males can be distinguished by an all black appearance and females silver in color. One of the largest of all jacks, they are agile pack hunters displaying aggressive behavior and when curious will bite anything.”

The species eats a variety of fish and crustaceans, cephalopods and mollusks, as well. They’ve developed unique hunting strategies, shadowing monk seals and picking off prey that escape while monk seals do the work of flipping over rocks.

To catch ulua fishers use a technique known asa slide bait fishing.

A fishing manual on the DLNR website states, “A line is cast out with a lead weight on an anchorline. Between the anchorline and the mainline is a stop ring assembly. Once the lead is anchored to the bottom, a rig with a sliding swivel and baited hook is slid down the mainline until it gets to the stop ring. attracted to it. An anchorline of about ten feet usually does the trick. When a fish strikes, pulling on the rod sets the hook and breaks the anchorline.”

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The website known as O’ahu Fishing writes, “The big advantage to this style of fishing is that you are able to use large one to two pound baits of whole octopus or live fish.”

Of course, this also attracts Hawaiian monk seals.

“Most local fishermen will run more than one pole at a time, the more poles means greater odds, usually three is the average,” the website continues. “Another plus with this system is that you are able to slide multiple baits without recasting. Be aware that the action while fishing for ulua can be very slow to keep yourself occupied yet focused on the task at hand. Even the most persistent and knowledgeable fishermen may catch only a dozen of these fish in a year. This style of fishing hasn’t changed very much over the years except for the introduction of stronger more durable materials used in today’s rods.”

However, NOAA is encouraging a change–from barbed hooks to barbless hooks.

According to the NOAA Fisheries website, “It’s the hook’s basic design that makes it effective—not the barb.

A barbless circle hook is a regular circle hook with a flattened barb. Barbless circle hooks can minimize fishing’s impact on our nearshore resources and protected species. Our research has shown that barbless circle hooks work just as well as barbed hooks. Because barbless circle hooks are easier to remove, or self-shed, they minimize impacts on protected species and fish that are released.”

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NOAA Fisheries offers this suggestion on how to crimp barbed hooks to make them more friendly to fish and protected species like Hawaiian monk seals.

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Or contact the State’s Marine Wildlife Program at 808-295-6483 or by email. To get FREE barbless circle hooks.

See this website to learn more about NOAA’s Barbless Circle Hook Project.

Here’s a video that gives a demonstration on how slide baiting works:

A couple weeks ago, we shared the antics of RN02. Well, he’s not the only Hawaiian monk seal who logs unusual behaviors in the NOAA Hawaiian Monk Seal database. The subadult female known as R7AA has her own share of interesting notations.

Most recently, at 7:00 a.m. on Dec 6, a report was received on the hotline of a seal resting on the beach at Kiahuna Point, Poipu. One of our lead volunteers responded and found subadult female R7AA sleeping on sand with a medium sized circle hook in her left cheek and two feet of trailing monofilament.

IMG_0868Our DLNR and NOAA Hawaiian Monk Seal coordinators and several volunteers trained in capture techniques assembled on scene by 8:15 a.m. R7AA was sleeping on sand at the top of the beach next to naupaka vegetation. She was in good body condition; however, the hook tip was visibly protruding through the left cheek from inside the mouth. A minor infection was noted with some blood staining, but no swelling.

The team captured the seal (with approval from NOAA). A vise-grip pliers was used to hold the hook’s shank and push the hook’s tip through her cheek. The hook’s barbed tip was then cut off with a small bolt cutter, and the hook was easily reversed out of the mouth. A foul odor was detected along with blood staining on the fur below the mouth, and fresh blood flowed from the wound while removing the hook. 

_MG_8005R7AA was immediately released and headed for the waterline. After 10 minutes, she moved back up the beach and spent the remainder of the day hauled-out in the same location.

Here’s a photo of the fishing gear that was removed from R7AA’s mouth. This contraption is used in slide bait fishing, often to catch giant trevally, known as ulua. (This is when we encourage fishers to use barbless fishing hooks. Also, if they realize they’ve hooked a seal, to report it to the Hawaiian monk seal hotline, no questions asked, at 808-651-7668.)

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Here’s the capture team. They look so mild-mannered for monk seal heroes.

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When R7AA was re-sighted yesterday, there was no visible wound, illustrating once again how the skin and blubber of Hawaiian monk seals have a great ability to heal.

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While this was R7AA’s most recent incident. It certainly wasn’t her first. In fact, she was likely hooked before, and for a time, she sported a dive tag on her back. However, she has an unfortunate knack to haul out in unusual–and sometimes dangerous–places on the south shore. And she tends to do so around dark, as if she’s planning to settle in for the night. Not a good idea when she’s snuggling next to a car tire, on a road, or stretched across a sidewalk. One night she was all the way up by the ancient Hawaiian cemetery at Poipu Beach Park, that’s a good 100 feet from the water across about 50 feet of grass lawn.

The key is to head her off before she makes a risky journey.

So, with approval and training from NOAA, R7AA has been displaced away from roads, parking lots, and sidewalks a total of eight times. She’s been displaced out of the Poipu keiki pool twice. She is also one of the few seals to be displaced independently by trained volunteers who were authorized to encourage her to move out of harm’s way quickly, rather than wait for staff to arrive. Mahalo to our well trained and dedicated volunteers who have the experience and knowledge of how to safely move a large wild animal off a road and back into normal habitat.

Here’s a look at some of R7AA’s unusual choices for sleeping locations.

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This last photo is included for its sheer oddity. It’s the remains of 30 small eels that she barfed up one day.

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Monthly Update: The Kauai team logged 223 seal sightings this month. This included 31 individually identified seals.

November: 223
October: 258
September: 203
August: 324
July: 239
June: 179
May: 262
April: 348
March: 350
Feb: 303
Jan: 284

Updates:

  • PK6 was born at a remote beach along Napali Coast in September to R400. He was flipper-tagged on Nov 11. The male pup was large and healthy and now has a permanent ID of RL40.
  • RH38, the seal rehabbed at Ke Kai Ola and released in July, continues to thrive. Her tracking tag remains attached, however the battery has died so no further data is being transmitted.
  • All of the 6 pups born this year have been sighted recently and continue to thrive.
  • Displacements: Adult male RF28 was displaced from the keiki pool beach. That was his first displacement from the keiki pool.
  • Molting: Adult male RN02 spent 3 weeks at the busy Poipu Beach in pre-molt, molt, and post-molt which required extensive volunteer coverage. One other seal molted this month in less busy areas.
  • Vaccinations: Initial morbillivirus vaccine given to new juvenile seal R1NI.
  • Bleach marking: none this month.

Research/Support of Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center:

  • 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.