Archive for February, 2019

Monk Seal Monday #48: New Pup!

When it comes to Hawaiian monk seal pups, the bigger, the better. A monk seal pup’s size is directly related to his mom. The bigger the mom when she pups, the longer her fat stores will hold out and the longer she’ll nurse before weaning her young one. A “weaner” with a hefty layer of blubber will have more time to figure out what to eat and where to find it. 

That said, Kauai’s first pup (PK1) of the year, a male, has a good chance of becoming a super size weaner.

When RB00 rolled out of the surf in early February and landed on a remote Kauai beach, she was approaching ocean-liner status. If she were a heavy duty truck, she would have been labeled as a wide load. RB00’s anticipated due date was January 20th, but she didn’t pup until Feb. 4, giving her a couple extra weeks to pack on the pounds. And pack on the pounds, she did.

Wide load RB00 hapai

Photo credit: G. Langley

RB00 pupped on a remote beach on Lanai in 2018. She nursed for a whopping six-and-a-half weeks. This year, RB00 surprised us by pupping on Kauai—on the very same beach on which she was born in 2007. RB00 possesses legendary DNA—her mother is RH58, also known as Rocky, who gained international fame when she gave birth on Waikiki Beach in 2017. For a detailed review of RB00’s life, read this post from last year.

PK1 marked his third week of life today, having survived the major windstorm and monster surf of two weeks ago. Here’s a recap in photos of his life thus far.


Photo credit: G. Langley


Photo credit: G. Langley


Photo credit: G. Langley


Photo credit: G. Langley


Photo credit: G. Langley


Photo credit: G. Langley


Photo credit: G. Langley


Photo credit: G. Langley

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Monk Seal Monday #47: RK58 Returns

The fishy smell of seal slammed against the nostrils to reveal the true contents of an ordinary dog kennel positioned in the back of a government truck. Only, there wasn’t any ordinary dog inside. Young RK58 was returning to Kaua‘i from six months of rehabilitation on Hawai‘i Island after a series of misadventures on his birth beach led his mother—RH58, the ordinarily perfect role model of a doting mother—to reject him.

Seal hierarchy is complicated.

RK58 slept peacefully, if smell-ily, on his flight from Hawai‘i Island to Kaua‘i and also during the hour-long drive through traffic to reach the beach where a temporary resting spot awaited him.

A circular “shore pen” was made of connecting fence panels. Inside, a tub for water was buried up to its sides in the sand. A log—about the same size as a six-month-old monk seal—was placed inside for RK58 to snuggle against when sleeping. Also, numerous drift wood sticks were scattered about to provide enrichment for the curious young monk seal. This setup would give RK58 time to transition from captive seal to wild seal.


Photo credit: Gary Langley

When the dog kennel was opened, RK58 wasted no time in galumphing forward into his shore pen where he’d stay for a couple nights, as is protocol for young Hawaiian monk seals returning to the wild after an extended stay in rehabilitation at Ke Kai Ola, the Monk Seal Hospital, in Kona.


Photo credit: Gary Langley

RK58 went immediately for the water tub. Over the next two days, he would energetically flop around in it until the tub would eventually crack and break. But the weather was perfect—cloudy with occasional rain—to keep a monk seal cool.

When he wasn’t in his tub, RK58 circumnavigated his shore pen, investigating his new environment. He tossed sticks in the air, kicked up sand with his fore-flippers, and napped alongside the log. In other words, he exhibited hallmark characteristics for a monk seal of his age.

At one point, a telemetry tag was adhered to RK58’s back. This will report back to NOAA his whereabouts. (Eventually, the tag will fall off.) Also, two red identification tags were attached to RK58’s rear flippers. The left reads RK58 and the right RK59. If these ever break and fall off, RK58 will still be identifiable by a microchip PIT tag (much like the kind inserted subcutaneously on dogs and cats) that was slipped under his skin. There’s actually a natural way to identify RK58. He sports a natural bleach mark on the tips of his right fore flipper—much like his mother does, too.

Monk seals are often further identified with a number bleached into their fur. However, no combination of dry seal and sleeping seal presented itself during RK58’s acclimatization period, so he has not yet been bleach-marked.

After two nights in his shore-pen, Dr. Claire Simeone, veterinarian and director of Ke Kai Ola, declared RK58 fit for re-release into the wild.

When RK58’s shore pen was opened, he wasted no time exiting, heading straight for the water.

But when he got washed in the shore break, he paused.

RK58 Release Kim Steutermann Rogers-3

Instead of diving in, RK58 motored down the beach for approximately 100 yards, bypassing an adult female monk seal who happened to be hauled out nearby. A small on-shore break washed his body in salt water a few times, but RK58 did not venture out. It was as if he were investigating his new world. And a big one, at that. Why rush it?

RK58 Release Kim Steutermann Rogers-6

But then, it all clicked. RK58 started swimming, even foraging, chasing after things under water, coming up with stuff in his mouth. He started duck diving under waves. He was a wild seal once again.

The next few weeks and months are critical for RK58. It may take him a few days to figure out what food he likes to eat, but Ke Kai Ola has prepared him. One condition of his release was that he free-feed—that is, catch his own live prey. He’s successfully noshed on live fish. He’s even used his strong jaws to crack open lobster. The bigger concern for any rehabbed wildlife is that they maintain a healthy wariness of people. The fewer interactions he has with humans, the better. Let’s do what we can to ensure RK58’s survival. Let’s keep him a wild seal.

Here are more reports about RK58 and his return to the wild.

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Monk Seal Monday #46: Molt

We’ve shared details of a monk seal’s annual molt before; however, we’ve never had such good imagery of the near day-by-day progress. Until now. Thanks to a long-time dedicated volunteer named Gary. Thanks, Gary!

What a transformation of RN44.

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Monk Seal Monday #45: 2018 Recap

With the month-long government shutdown, this report is a tad late. Apologies.

Year End Monk Seal Management Stats for 2018:

  • Grand sightings total:
    • 3,253 or 8.9/day monk seal sightings on Kauai in 2018
    • 3,621 or 9.9/day in 2017
    • 3,236 or 8.9/day in 2016
    • 3,321 or 9.1/day in 2015
    • 2,516 or 6.9/day in 2014
  • Kauai population: 60 unique individual seals sighted in 2018 (60 in 2017, 56 in 2016, 53 in 2015, 47 in 2014)
  • Births: 7 total born on Kauai (1 stillborn) and 4 or 5 more Kauai females likely pupped on Niihau
  • Mortalities: no observed mortalities in 2018, however 1 pup was stillborn to first time mother RK52.
  • Niihau Seals: sighted 9 new seals in 2018 (12 in 2017, 6 in 2016, 14 in 2015) likely from Niihau
    • The Kauai team flipper tagged 2 of these.
  • Displacements: 19 total displacements occurred
    • 4 displacements from unsafe or unsuitable locations (R7AA from roads and sidewalks).
    • 15 displacements from Poipu Keiki Pool.
  • Vaccination for morbillivirus efforts:
    • 3 seal pups were fully vaccinated on Kauai.
  • Bleach marking effort:
    • 15 bleach marks were applied

Stranding Responses in 2017:

  • 3 monk seal stranding responses:
    • R376 – a large spinous fish bone was removed from mouth. Seal had lost significant weight due to inability to forage. Seal has since recovered body condition.
    • RK42 – large circle hook removed from weaned pup’s mouth. Pup was not sighted again since day of de-hoooking.
    • RK58 – brought into captivity at Ke Kai Ola for rehab after multiple pup swaps and eventual abandonment by mother seal RK58. Seal to be returned to Kauai for release in Feb, 2019.

December’s Monthly Update:
The Kauai team logged 153 seal sightings in December 2018. This included 26 individually identified seals.

  • Dec: 153
  • Nov: 145
  • Oct: 203
  • Sep: 199
  • Aug: 295
  • July: 414

Flipper tagged two new seals, both subadult males. One tagged as R2XK the other as R8HT.


  • RK58 remains at Ke Kai Ola for rehabilitation and is now free-feeding and gaining weight.
  • Poipu Keiki Pool: No displacements this month
  • Bleach markings: 4 bleach marks were applied.
  • Molting: 2 seals molted 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.


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