Archive for August, 2020

Monk Seal Monday #106: (P)updates!

This past weekend, Kauai’s newest pups made two weeks of age. Both are progressing as expected–nursing and gaining weight, losing their fetal folds, taking longer swims, and exploring deeper water.

Interestingly, last year, these same two moms pupped on the same beach within a day of each other. This year, two days separated their delivery dates, again on the same beach. RH58 gave birth to PK2 on August 7th and RK28 gave birth to PK3 on August 9th.

(Note: pups are referred to as “PK” for “Pup Kauai” followed by their birth order for the year. Once pups are weaned, they are flipper-tagged and given their science name, which is really a number. For more on flipper-tagging, click here.)

In 2018, these same two moms also pupped on the same beach. Only this time, they were involved in an unusual series of “pup switches” that resulted in one pup being rejected and rehabilitated at Ke Kai Ola, the monk seal hospital on Hawaii Island. (For more information on that event, click here and here.)

This year, moms and pups are, thus far, keeping their distance from each other.

Here are a series of photos taken last week on Wednesday, August 19th. Can you identify them? Who is RH58? PK2? Who is RK28? PK3? (Hint: You can click on RH58 and RK28 in the sidebar on the right to examine previous photos of these two seals. Look for identifying markers–scars, natural bleach marks, etc.) Answers below.

Top row: RH58 and PK2 left. RK28 and PK3 right.

Middle row: RK28 and PK3 left. RH58 and PK2 right.

Bottom row: RH58 and PK2 left. RK28 and PK3 right.

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Field Report: July 2020

The Kauai team logged 120 seal sightings this month. This included 22 individually identified seals.

June: 81
May: 147
April: 117
March: 200
February: 264
January: 319
December: 180
November: 223
October: 258
September: 203
August: 324
July: 239


  • Pregnant adult female R1KY had been monitored for logging behavior in May and June. In July she was not sighted and likely went to Niihau to pup.
  • Due to COVID-19 stay-at-home measures, our new methods of monitoring continue, which include:
    • Weekly surveys of key beaches and areas by staff;
    • DAR staff conducting weekly island wide Creel Surveys;
    • PMRF staff continuing to send in routine reports and photos; and
    • Requesting that people who call the hotline to report seals assist us by sending several photos and setting-up SRA signs or sticks. 
  • The juvenile pup, PK1, continues to be resighted at her birth beach and is in good health.
  • Five seals molted this month and required minimal management.

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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Let’s continue last week’s post about male hierarchical displays and posturing among Hawaiian monk seals. Because they’re at it again. But this time, they’re vying for the attention of a female. Not just any female. A pregnant one. A very pregnant one.

Last Thursday, when a very pregnant RH58 (yes, that RH58, also known as Rocky the Celebrity Seal) showed up after making the oceanic crossing from Oahu, another seal, seven-year-old RN30 appeared, too. (RN30 was born to in 2013 to first-time mom RO28, who died of toxoplasmosis earlier this year.) RN30 approached RH58, getting close enough for her to display in a manner that indicated she wanted him to back off. That is, she lifted her head, opened her mouth, and vocalized at him.

By the next morning, another male had arrived. This one, R3CD. He was estimated to be six when he was tagged in 2017. RN30 positioned himself between the RH58 and R3CD. The dynamics got really interesting when RH58 hauled her heavy body into the water for a gravity-free swim. The boys followed, of course, and RN30 worked hard to keep his position in between the two. While RH58 floated about languidly in the shallows, RN30 darted over to R3CD. They’d splash a bit. Then, he’d zip back to check on RH58. Rinse. Repeat.

But the antics were just getting started. Things got more interesting when another pregnant female showed up–RK28. Her appearance kept the boys busy while at the other end of the beach, RH58 quietly gave birth to PK2.

By day’s end on Friday, RN30 was still annoying RK28 while R3CD quietly watched over PK2 and RH58.

Sunday morning broke to reveal RK28 had given birth to PK3.

Now, the boys are still hanging around but not quite as attentive. Typically, once a pup arrives, the males’ interest wanes, leaving moms to snuggle (bond) and feed (nurse) their young.

And with that bit of background, meet PK2.

20200807 PK2-620200807 PK2-520200807 PK2-4

And PK3.

k28 + pk3 - 2k28 + pk3 - 1

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When a Hawaiian monk seal hauls out on the beach, they’re generally there to snooze. Sleeping monk seals are so silent and still on the beach that they’re often confused for fat lava rocks. However, in the summer, you may come upon a scene in the Hawaiian monk seal world that is anything but sleepy and easy-going–one you’ll want to give a wide berth, too. It’s the part of the breeding season for males in which they establish their dominance.

Here is a series of photos showing a recent interaction between two males. One is a dominant male whose been around Kauai and Niihau for some time–RK05. He was first identified as a J2 (two-year-old juvenile) in 2003. The up-and-comer who gets his comeuppance is RN30, a seven year-old.

In this particular scenario, RK05 was cruising and periscoping like males do. He saw RN30 on the beach, hauled out, and, as they say, showed the youngster whose roar is louder. RN30 rolled belly up for a bit, and once things settled down, he departed, slinking around the rocks and periscoping himself, eventually leaving the old guy to himself.

If you haven’t seen this, it can be startling, especially if you’re used to monk seals, you know, sleeping quietly. Most of the joisting is verbal; there’s usually very little physical interaction or injury. It’s all posturing to ensure who gets to father the next monk seal pup in the population.

(As we’ve written before, however, male mobbing is a whole different story and can result in injury to females.)


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