Archive for January, 2019

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.

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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.


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