Archive for May, 2019

Last Friday, on “Endangered Species Day,” PK2 was tagged. He’s now officially known as RL52 with tags L52 (left) and L53 (right). At the same time, he was vaccinated against morbillivirus. His morphometrics (physical measurements) came in at 100 cm axillary girth and 115 cm standard length. He’s smaller than RL08, but he still he seems chubby, because he’s significantly shorter than L08, too. RL52 compares closely in weaning size with RK42, a yearling who was recently re-sighted looking nice and healthy.

RK52 weaned her pup after 36 days of nursing. This is shorter than the average of 42 over the past few years–common among first-time moms–but longer than 32 days, the shortest number of nursing days known on Kauai.

Volunteers report that post-weaning, RL52 has been swimming for hours at a time, while nosing around the nooks and crannies of rocks and tossing in the air “findings” from the ocean floor, sleeping, and basically being a normal “weaner.”

Here are some photos of RL08 the day before he was tagged.


PC: J. Honnert


PC: J. Honnert


PC: J. Honnert


PC: J. Honnert


PC: J. Honnert

At the other end of the main Hawaiian Islands, the team at Ke Kai Ola provided an update on RH38 in a press release, as follows:

Veterinarians diagnose infection due to trauma in complex case of RH38, an endangered Hawaiian monk seal in rehabilitation at The Marine Mammal Center’s hospital for monk seals 

(Kailua-Kona, Hawai‘i – May 16, 2019) – Experts at The Marine Mammal Center report positive developments in the perplexing case of Hawaiian monk seal RH38. A CT scan performed in late- April showed muscle inflammation and infection in RH38’s back flippers, which spread to her bloodstream and caused a wide range of other problems. Based on the location and extent of the muscle damage, the Center’s veterinarians suspect trauma as the initial cause of the injury, though the source is unknown. 

“Wild animals mask pain and injury, so internal injuries can be well hidden, unlike more obvious external wounds,” says Dr. Claire Simeone, The Marine Mammal Center’s Hospital Director at Ke Kai Ola. “We’re elated to discover the diagnosis for this complex case, as each individual is critical to restoring this endangered population.” 

RH38 is stable, but remains in critical condition at Ke Kai Ola, The Marine Mammal Center’s hospital and visitor center in Kailua-Kona that is dedicated to the endangered marine mammal. The Center’s veterinary experts are currently treating her with antibiotics, pain medications and laser therapy, and are optimistic that she will continue to improve. 

The likely trauma that caused her injury may have been natural or human-induced, whether accidental or intentional. Natural causes of trauma include interactions with predators or other seals, and a variety of hazards such as debris in heavy surf and eroding rocks along shorelines where seals haul-out to rest. Accidental sources of trauma can include a boat strike or vehicle injury. While rare, there have been confirmed cases of intentional trauma inflicted on seals by people. 

“We always ask residents and visitors state-wide to be aware of seals that are or might be hauled out on beaches, for the safety of people and seals,” says Dr. Claire Simeone, The Marine Mammal Center’s Hospital Director at Ke Kai Ola. “We encourage beachgoers to share space with marine wildlife and report any interactions, whether accidental or intentional, so that responders can quickly assess the affected animal.” 

RH38 was molting at the time of her rescue, a natural annual process in which monk seals shed their hair and skin. Veterinarians suspect that some aspect of immunosuppression related to her molt may have played a role in her inability to deal with the infection caused by the trauma. 

As a result of her sepsis, RH38 had infections in a variety of organs. She has been successfully treated for pneumonia and corneal damage, both of which have resolved. She also developed a skin infection, kidney infection, resulting kidney stones and a liver infection, all of which are continuing to receive treatment and monitoring. 

The Kaua‘i Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui monitored RH38 over the past year and routinely observed her in good body condition. In March, she began to rapidly lose body condition. She was rescued from Kaua‘i on March 12, 2019, and transported via U.S. Coast Guard flight to Ke Kai Ola. During her initial critical care period, RH38 was tested for dozens of diseases, toxins and parasites. 

In late April, the Center’s staff and volunteers, along with a team from NOAA, transported RH38 to North Hawai‘i Community Hospital on Hawai‘i Island for a CT scan. The Center’s veterinary experts anesthetized her, and a scan was done on her entire body in order to more closely investigate the different organ systems that were showing signs of damage and pinpoint the source. This is the first CT scan ever performed on a wild Hawaiian monk seal. 

This is RH38’s second time in rehabilitation at The Marine Mammal Center. She was originally admitted to Ke Kai Ola in August of 2017 for malnutrition and a heavy parasite load. She more than doubled in body weight during her three-month rehabilitation and was successfully released back to Kaua‘i. Her current condition is not thought to be related to her original admit in 2017. 

The Marine Mammal Center’s work in Hawai‘i is dedicated to the conservation of Hawaiian monk seals. The Center is a member of the Pacific Islands Region Marine Mammal Response Network and is responsible for monitoring the seals that haul out on Hawai‘i Island. The Center’s marine science program, Nā Kōkua o ke Kai, serves students in grades 6 through 8 and their teachers on Hawai’i Island. Through community engagement, education, stranding response and animal care, their dedicated staff and volunteers are working to save a species. 

The Marine Mammal Center has rehabilitated 27 monk seals since opening Ke Kai Ola in 2014.The Center is proud to partner with NOAA to support conservation efforts for the Hawaiian monk seal. NOAA researchers estimate the current monk seal population to be about 1,400 animals, and about 30 percent of those monk seals are alive today directly due to conservation efforts led by NOAA and its partners. 

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Field Report: April

Monthly Update:

The Kauai team logged 348 seal sightings in April. This included 35 individually identified seals.

April: 348
March: 350
Feb: 303
Jan: 284
Dec: 153
Nov: 145
Oct: 203
Sep: 199


  • New pup born to RK52. This is her first successful pup. In 2018, she pupped for the first time, however the pup was stillborn. This pup is male and thriving so far. Of note, RK52 was born to RH58 in 2011. The other pup born this year was to RB00, also offspring of RH58.


  • Subadult female RH38 was captured and sent to KKO for care.
  • Adult female RB00 pupped at her natal beach; however she had previously pupped on Maui and Lanai, not Kauai. The pup is male and thriving. He weaned after 54 days of nursing and tagged as RL08 in April.
  • Displacements: No seals were displaced from the Poipu keiki pool. However, adult female RK90 began hauling out at Glass Beach and spending the nights. She was in pre-molt, and then molt condition during this time. Glass Beach is an unsafe location at night due to trucks driving on the beach. Therefore, RK90 was displaced (with approval from NOAA by trained staff) off the beach at sunset five times (3 times in April), twice along with adult male RK05. RK90 continues to return to Glass Beach several times per week, but has begun foraging at night again, therefore displacement has not been necessary. Close monitoring of this beach continues.
  • Bleach markings: 1 was applied this month.
  • Molting: 1 seal molted this month (RK90 at Glass Beach).

Research/Support of PIFSC:

  • Sub-sampled scat, molt, and tissue plug samples accordingly.
  • Logged all seal sightings for Pacific Islands Fisheries and Science Center (PIFSC) database. Organized photos and reported sightings, molt tallies, survival factors to send to PIFSC.

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In January 2018, a male juvenile monk seal was sighted on Niihau with a hook in his lower right lip. Photos of him happened to match another set of photos submitted by some kindly fishermen of a sighting in September 2017. Both sets of images showed the animal to be in good body condition with the hook not presenting a life-threatening situation. Clearly, the seal was managing to forage successfully. So, the decision was made to await an attempted de-hooking when the seal was next sighted–as long as he was in a safe place and situation to intervene.

Thing is, this wasn’t NG00‘s first hooking. In May 2016, he hauled out on a Kauai beach with a hook stuck in his lip. At the time, NOAA approved a trained team to capture him and remove the hook, and they did. Successfully. Then, 18 months later, he was hooked again. That was the Niihau sighting.

Months went by. NG00 was sighted but not in a safe place for intervention. Then, he was sighted, but he’d recently molted, so it was decided–once again–not to intervene.

You might be wondering about his flipper tag number. NG00 was tagged on Niihau, and his tags are black. As you can tell, he tends to make the swim back and forth from Niihau to Kauai fairly regularly.

Last week, the stars and seals aligned. After romping with with RG58, he hauled out in a safe spot. With NOAA’s approval, a trained team caught him, and safely removed the hook that he’d been sporting since, at least, September 2017.

This would be a good time to request fishers to use barbless hooks. Please.


PC: J. Honnert


PC: J. Honnert


PC: J. Honnert


PC: J. Honnert



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