Archive for March, 2018


The Kauai team logged 259 seal sightings this month. This included 32 individually identified seals.

Feb: 259
Jan: 336
Dec: 270
Nov: 239
Oct: 225
Sep: 354

New Issues:

  • RK90 returned after 6 week absence. Was large and pregnant on 12/28/17 and then sighted on 2/17/18 thin. Likely pupped on Niihau. This would be her first pupping.

Updates on previously reported issues:

  • NG00 is likely still hooked and was not sighted this month. NG00 was observed with a circle hook in lower right lip. Sighted on Niihau in January. Photos match pictures sent in by fisherman along Kaumakani in September of a hooked seal. Seal in good condition, hook not life threatening, will attempt to de-hook next time hauled out on sand.
  • Poipu Keiki Pool: 6 displacements took place this month. Listed below are which seals and how many total times they have been displaced from the keiki pool. 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.
    • RN02 – 3rd displacement
    • RG58 – 1st and 2nd displacement both this month
    • R339 – 4th displacement
    • RV18 – 1st displacement
    • RK90 – 3rd displacement
  • Morbillivirus vaccinations: All vaccines on Kauai have expired. No further vaccinations will occur for the time being.
  • Bleach markings: 2 seals bleach marked this month.
  • Molting activity: 1 seal molted this month.

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Last week, a report came in that we one of our yearlings–RJ28–was hauled out on top of a trash bag.

It’s time to talk about marine debris.

Marine debris is considered a significant threat for Hawaiian monk seals.

monk seal in derelect fishing gear

PC: NOAA. French Frigate Shoals.

Unfortunately, monk seals have one of the highest entanglement rates of any pinniped species. Masses of ghost fishing nets (think giant tangles of spaghetti) create their own kinds of floating ecosystem, so they can attract monk seals to them for food. Plus, monk seals have curious natures, and it’s the pups who are most often entangled.

According to the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center:

From 1982-2014 a total of 347 seals have been found entangled in marine debris, of which 237 (68%) were rescued, 93 escaped unaided, 9 died, and the fate of 8 others is unknown. About 96% of all entanglements have been observed in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI), however, due to the remoteness of these islands, it is unknown how many additional seals drown or die from entanglement when researchers are not present.

Marine debris has become a routine part of a field biologist’s efforts in saving monk seals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands–the protected area of the Hawaiian archipelago known as the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. At some atolls, the entanglement threat is so great that the field crew conducts twice-daily–morning and afternoon–surveys to free any entangled monk seals, turtles, and seabirds. But there is no field crew stationed during the winter months at these locations.

In addition to monk seals, the islands, islets, and atolls host more than 7,000 marine species. In the summer of 2016, the team helped remove over 7,000 pounds of marine debris. That was one pound of marine debris for each species of marine life.

RK54.Susan Johnson

Photo credit: S. Johnson

When we say “marine debris,” we mean:

  • ghost fishing nets
  • fishing lines
  • fishing traps
  • fishing buoys
  • tires
  • televisions
  • lightbulbs
  • laundry baskets
  • plastic bottles
  • plastic bottle caps
  • plastic jugs
  • plastic tooth brushes
  • plastic cigarette lighters
  • cigarette butts

And that’s just a quick list.

Marine debris is not a problem limited to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, where an estimated 85 percent of the population of Hawaiian monk seals reside. In the main Hawaiian Islands, we lose monk seals to drowning due to entanglement with fishing gear, including here on Kaua`i. Since starting this website in 2009, four Kauai-born seals (RT12, RG13, R4DD, RJ22) have died in which drowning was suspected to be the cause of death. In these cases, necropsies indicated acute death and histopathology reports indicated no disease or injury. Inconclusive results such as these are challenging, however one likely cause that is of great concern is acute death by entrapment underwater causing wet, not dry drowning.

What you can do:

  • Join or lead a clean-up. The Kauai chapter of Surfrider is very active and often focus their efforts on many of the beaches monk seals haul out.
  • Frequent Ocean Friendly restaurants.
  • Say no to single-use plastics; carry your own refillable water bottles and reusable utensils.
  • Say no to plastic bags; carry your own bags.
  • Say no to plastic straws; carry your own paper variety or reusable stainless steel.
  • Say no to products heavily packaged in plastic; opt for products packaged in recyclable materials.
  • Recycle, recycle, recycle.




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