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Archive for November, 2018

Monk Seal Monday (on Tuesday) #38

Maui recently reported the 30th pup born in the Main Hawaiian Islands this year. Thirty pups in one year is a record for the Main Hawaiian Islands, besting the previous high mark by a whopping nine pups. Turns out, the mom, R8HE, was flipper-tagged on Kauai as a juvenile. She’s estimated to be approximately six years old. This is her first known pup.

However, last year this time, we reported:

R8HE was a juvenile when flipper-tagged here in 2014, but she’s been regularly sighted around O‘ahu and reported as far away as Hawai‘i Island. Earlier this year, she appeared pregnant but then wasn’t seen for a couple months. She popped back up looking very thin, making HMSRP suspect she’d pupped in a remote place somewhere. (This happens even in the Main Hawaiian Islands.)

This kind of movement up and down the Hawaiian Island chain isn’t unusual. Some seals do like to journey long distances while others seem to stick to a few favorite haunts.

You may recall another voyager, R8HD, who seems to be making a tour of the Main Hawaiian Islands. He was sighted on Kauai, Oahu, and Molokai this summer. R8HD’s home place made national news recently when a hurricane roared through French Frigate Shoals. Various headlines reported one of the islands in the atoll was “wiped out,” “disappeared,” or “vanished” after taking a direct hit from Hurricane Walaka in early October. They were referring to East Island, an important pupping spot for Hawaiian monk seals and nesting site for Green sea turtles.

Screen Shot 2018-11-13 at 6.42.23 PM

Photo credit: Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument/NOAA.

East Island wasn’t large by island standards in the Main Hawaiian Islands, measuring some half-mile in length and 400-feet wide before the hurricane. Now, not much remains. However, as ocean currents move sand around, there’s a chance some of the “island” will return.

The submergence of East Island wasn’t unexpected. But it was sudden, taking climate scientists by surprise. With the intensity and frequency of tropical storms and hurricanes expected to increase due to climate change, this is one way climate change is directly affecting Hawaiian monk seals today. There’s likely to be more storms like Walaka charging through the Hawaiian archipelago. And there are dozens more islands and islets the size of East Island–and smaller–on which Hawaii’s native wildlife depend for survival. In addition to entanglements with marine debris, competition for food resources, and sharks, now climate change can be added to the list of threats facing Hawaiian monk seals today.

 

 

 

 

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On Friday, an email arrived on Kauai. It read: “RH92 has hauled at Kaupo Beach (Baby Makapuu) today.”

Kaupo Beach is found on Oahu.

What a surprise! Until last week, RH92 was regularly reported day after day hauling out on a narrow one-mile stretch of beach on the East Side of Kauai. Then, she made a longer trek, popping up on the South Shore. Now, she’s made the 70-mile jump over to Oahu.

Here’s a little background on the two-year-old RH92, a female.

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Photo credit: G. Langley

RH92 was born on the North Shore to RK22. A few months after weaning, some fishermen contacted DOCARE (Department of Conservation and Resources Enforcement), because a loose dog had attacked a small monk seal. An officer immediately responded, found the dog’s owner, and issued a citation. The seal, with multiple puncture wounds, turned out to be RH92 and was given antibiotics. Thankfully, her small punctures did not become infected and healed quickly.

Soon thereafter, RH92 ventured to Kauai’s East Side where, as a yearling, she began feeding on fish scraps in a canal. Because two other yearlings had drowned, possibly in nets, in the same canal in previous years, she was translocated her to the West Side of the island. Meanwhile, signs near the canal and boat launch were installed and fishers asked not to dump fish scraps in the area. Luckily, fishers complied, because RH92 quickly made her way back to the East Side within two weeks later. Since then, there’s been no problems.

RICOH IMAGING

Photo credit: M. Miyashiro

Too, RH92 has an impressive scar on her head from a large cookie cutter shark bite that happened last year. At the time, it was quite startling as her skull was visible. But she quickly healed.

It’s not unusual for Hawaiian monk seals to island hop. But RH92’s decision to cross an open ocean channel for Oahu was a surprise, suggesting she possibly followed an older seal. That’s not unusual for monk seals to do, too.

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Hawaiian Monk Seal Count Numbers

On Saturday morning, October 27, 2018, volunteers from around the Main Hawaiian Islands combed beaches, scanned coastlines, and reported any monk seal sightings between 9:00 and Noon.
Here on Kauai, a total of 13 seals were sighted. The sightings break down geographically this way:
South Shore: 8
North Shore: 2
East Side: 2
West Side: 1
This is what that data looks like on a pie chart.
20181101 October Monk Seal Count Results by Region
Statewide, a total of 56 Hawaiian monk seals were reported. That breakdown by islands looks like this:
Kauai: 13
Oahu: 19
Molokai: 20
Maui/Lanai: 4
Hawaii Island: 0
And like this on a pie chart.
Oct-18 Monk Seal Count Results
Over time, this graph shows the trend line of Hawaiian monk seals reported during these Hawaiian monk seal survey counts by island.
20181101 Monk Seal Count Graph
All this data comes with a giant asterisk behind it. The seals counted in this survey are usually only those identified. That almost always means they need to be hauled out on the beach. Too, counts can vary greatly depending on how many volunteers participate. The more trained volunteers who participate, the greater coverage around the island, the more seals found and reported. At least, that’s typically the case. Shoreline accessibility is also factor. Weather, too. And oceanic events. Human safety is first and foremost and, sometimes, big surf, for example, might preclude a specific coastline from being surveyed.
And, then, there’s the monk seals themselves, who can be pretty evasive, especially, it seems, whenever we want to count them;-)

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