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Archive for June, 2019

In the Hawaiian monk seal world, the term “logging” refers to a behavior performed by monk seals when they float on the surface of the ocean–not actively swimming–for extended periods of time. This time of year, it’s a behavior some very pregnant seals may exhibit in the days leading up to their delivery.

In the coming weeks, several females who regularly pup on Kauai may be seen logging in shallow water. Based on their pupping dates last year, these females anticipated due dates are as follows:

  • RK22 – June 22. (Although there’s no sign of her yet.)
  • RK30 – July 1.
  • RK28 – July 13
  • RO28 – July 16
  • RH58 – August 1

Logging by near-term pregnant females is natural behavior in monk seals. However, extended periods of logging can also be symptomatic of underlying health problems. When RK13 was healing from a suspected shark bite, she spent a fair amount of time logging in the shallow water of freshwater canals.

Logging can also be a symptom of toxoplasmosis, a disease that can be deadly to monk seals. Toxo is the number one disease threat to Hawaiian monk seals.

The parasite Toxoplasma gondii is a microscopic, single-cell organism. Just one of their eggs—known as oocysts— is enough to kill a monk seal. A single cat can excrete 145 billion eggs per year in its feces, according to DLNR. It’s a staggering number.

According to this NOAA report, “The parasite that causes ‘toxo’ sexually reproduces in cats, which shed T. gondii eggs into the environment via their feces. The feces of just one cat contains millions of T. gondii eggs that survive in the environment for many months.

“Any warm-blooded animal, including humans, can contract toxoplasmosis by ingesting a single T. gondii egg — and cats are essential for the reproduction and spread of the parasite.”

Since 2001, eleven Hawaiian monk seals have died of toxoplasmosis. Logging is one behavioral symptom. Of the 11 confirmed deaths due to toxo, eight were female. At least, two were pregnant. Unfortunately, once the disease progresses to the point of visual symptoms like logging, it can be too late for veterinarians to help. It’s not an easy death, either. It’s suspected the near-shore logging behavior occurs, because it’s too painful for the seal to haul out on the sand. In the days leading up to RB24‘s death due to toxoplasmosis, she was reported logging in canals on Oahu.

It can seem like a weird thing–how can the feces of pet (and feral) cats kill Hawaiian monk seals? To help explain, NOAA created this infographic and fact sheet. More information about toxoplasmosis can be found here and here.

And if you see a logging seal–whether pregnant or not–please report it to the Hawaiian monk seal hotline at 808-651-7668.

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Every month, anywhere from 30 to 38 individual Hawaiian monk seals are reported to the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui. But just who are these regulars? Here’s a look at the top ten most reported Hawaiian monk seal sightings on Kauai this year to date.

Keep in mind, many things affect this list. Monk seals often have favorite haul out locations. If a monk seal favors a location that happens to be easily accessible by humans, bingo, that seal will be reported more often to the hotline.

Then, of course, monk seal moms and their pups rack up a high number of reported sightings, because they stick to the same beach for weeks on end. As this list will also reveal, young monk seals–especially sub-adult males–are often sighted and reported, too.

  1. With 83 sightings, adult R7GM tops the list of most reported monk seal sightings on Kauai this year.  A female, it appears R7GM may be pregnant for the first time. If she pups on Kauai, her chances skyrocket for remaining at the top of this list for 2019.
  2. With 81 sightings, R3CX ranks second for the most reported monk seal sightings on Kauai. R3CX is a five-year-old male commonly seen roughhousing with other young males on Poipu Beach.
  3. With 65 sightings, RG58 ranks third for the most reported monk seal sightings on Kauai. RG58 is a four-year-old male who also prefers the busy beaches of Poipu. His mother is the renown RH58, also known as Rocky.
  4. With 56 sightings, RB00 ranks fourth for the most reported monk seal sightings on Kauai. The year’s first report of RB00 came two days before she gave birth. She nursed for 54 days and immediately left Kauai after weaning her pup. Recently, RB00 was sighted on Maui. RB00 also counts Rocky as her mother.
  5. With 53 sightings, RK52, yet another offspring of the prolific Rocky, ranks fifth on our list. She provided us with Kauai’s second pup of the year. She nursed for 36 days.
  6. With 53 sightings, RN44 ranks sixth for the most reported monk seal sightings on Kauai this year. He is a healthy six-year-old male, frequently sighted on his natal beach on the North Shore of the island. His mother is also Rocky.
  7. With 52 sightings, RL08 is the grandson of Rocky. He was born to RB00 earlier this year and nursed for a whopping 54 days.
  8. With 50 sightings, RK58 ranks eighth for the most reported monk seal sightings on Kauai this year. Another pup of Rocky’s, RK58 was abandoned by his mother in 2018 and spent several months in rehab at Ke Kai Ola before being released back on Kauai.
  9. With 41 sightings, RK30 ranks ninth for the most reported monk seal sightings on Kauai this year. RK30 is pushing 20 years of age. She’s also one of the most storied monk seals around, having survived many threats to her life. Read more about RK30 here.
  10. With 40 sightings, RG22 ranks tenth for the most reported monk seal sightings on Kauai this year. RG22 is another four-year-old male who loves to roughhouse with the boys at Poipu.

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Field Report: May

The Kauai team logged 262 seal sightings this month. This included 30 individually identified seals.

May: 262
April: 348
March: 350
Feb: 303
Jan: 284
Dec: 153
Nov: 145
Oct: 203
Sep: 199

New:

·       Off leash dogs continue to be an issue at several beaches. At Kiahuna Beach in Poipu a seal was chased off the beach by an off-leash dog, and another seal was chased off Fuji Beach by a dog that pulled free of the owner. Contact was not made between the dogs and seals and the seals were uninjured, however they were flushed off the beach and out of the area.

Updates:

·       Subadult female RH38 who was captured and sent to KKO for care continues to improve and we are optimistic that she will be released back on Kauai eventually, hopefully soon.

·       Adult female RK52 successfully weaned her pup PK2 after 36 days of nursing. The pup was tagged as L52/L53. The pup’s axillary girth was 100 cm. This pup has remained in his natal area and routinely interacts with several other seals in the area. He has been observed feeding on sea cucumbers and appears to be thriving.

·       Pup RL08 continues to haul out in his natal area, too, and is often observed feeding on sea cucumbers. The seal continues to thrive.

·       Displacements: No seals were displaced this month.

·       Bleach markings: 1 was applied this month.

·       Molting: no seals were observed molting this month.

·       Vaccinations: Pup RL52 was given the initial morbillivirus vaccination during flipper tagging.

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Like we’ve shared before, one of the most crucial times of a monk seal’s life are those first weeks after weaning. No longer fed by their mother, weaners must discover on their own what’s edible and what’s not. Sometimes that involves ingesting some marine organism not typical of a monk seal’s diet, say a sea cucumber. Considered “generalists” by scientists, adult monk seals forage on the ocean floor, using their strong necks to flip over rocks at average depths of 200 feet and deeper, dieting on octopus, eel, flat fish, lobster, and squid.

But not weaners. For the first few months after weaning, they stick close to shore, discovering what’s plentiful and easy to catch. Like sea cucumbers.

Kauai’s newest weaner, RL52, is adjusting to life as a monk seal. Here, he sports sea cucumber goo on his whiskers. This is very typical of young weaners.

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Photo credit: V. Bloy

Unfortunately, a young monk seal’s edible explorations also include some unsavory things like this plastic hagfish cone.

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Photo credit: V. Bloy

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Photo credit: V. Bloy

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Photo credit: V. Bloy

While RL52 didn’t run into any serious trouble this time, other weaners haven’t been so lucky. A few years ago, a young seal hauled out with a plastic ring around his muzzle. That same year, another youngster hauled out with a decaying plastic water bottle around his nose. A weaner in 2017 was found rolling in a wad of monofilament fishing line.

Here are some more photos of RL52 interacting with the plastic cone.

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Photo credit: V. Bloy

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Photo credit: V. Bloy

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Photo credit: V. Bloy

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Photo credit: V. Bloy

Lucky for RL52, one of our intrepid volunteers waited for him to abandon the hagfish cone; then, she retrieved it to dispose of it properly.

Here’s what remained of the cone.

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Photo credit: V. Bloy

But just what is a hagfish cone and what is it used for?

We’ll start with a hagfish, often called a slime eel.

Turns out, hagfish are some interesting creatures. They’re fish but have no true fins. Resembling an eel with a long, narrow body, hagfish measure some 20 inches in length. Their tails flatten at the end like a paddle. Hagfish have brains but no spinal cords. Journalist Susan Scott wrote this great piece about hagfish. It’ll explain how they got their nickname, “slime eel.”

Hagfish are tricky characters to catch. The typical method starts with a sealed bait bucket. Then, these plastic cones are inserted into a hole in the bucket. The fish swim in but cannot get out.

Unfortunately, these cones often get detached from their bait buckets and wash up on the beach.

This coming Saturday, June 8, celebrates oceans–World Oceans Day. There are many ways to join the celebration. One appropriate way would be to join Surfrider Kauai in cleaning up a beach. Here’s a link to their calendar of beach clean-up events. Another would be to attend this children’s play at Kukui Grove.

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