Archive for October, 2020

Turtle Tuesday #3: Research

Hawaiian green sea turtles are known to forage throughout the entire Hawaiian Island archipelago. Yet, with the many miles of beaches around the Main Hawaiian Islands, it’s interesting that Hawaiian green sea turtles migrate several hundreds miles to one or two islets at French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to breed. Here, 96% of the entire Hawaiian green sea turtle population nests.

After more than 45 years conducting a population census, beginning in 2016, NOAA’s Marine Turtle Biology and Assessment Program (MTBAP) expanded their research scope to answer growing scientific questions. 

  • Research from the 45 years of study indicate that females nest every three to five years. But what about males? How often do they return to their breeding grounds? 
  • What are the sex ratios of adult breeding populations?
  • Turtle embryos are known to be “temperature sex determinant.” That is, the incubation temperature of their nest determines the sex of hatchlings. Warmer temperatures produce more females; cooler temperatures produce more males. What are the current sex ratios of hatchlings and how might those ratios change as air and water temperatures increase? Are there going to be enough males to sustain the population?
  • What is the “pivotal temperature,” that is, the nest temperature that will produce a 50:50 ratio of males:females?

To answer these questions, scientists are using a variety of tagging techniques (including telemetry) to track the movements of turtles. They’re excavating more nests to determine number of eggs laid, number of eggs hatched. They’re also looking at nest characteristics—depth, location, and materials—and they’re using dataloggers to track nest temperature. They’re measuring and weighing hatchlings, as well as, taking teeny-tiny skin samples to determine kinship, using genetics to determine the presence of multiple paternity within nests.

When COVID-19 grounded NOAA’s Marine Turtle biology and Assessment Program earlier this year, the crew re-directed their efforts from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to the Main Hawaiian Islands. 

Over recent years, more nesting has been observed in the Main Hawaiian Islands. On Oahu, for example, in recent years, fewer than 10 nests had been discovered. This year, that number rocketed close to 50. It could be the result of a greater survey effort. Maybe it was a reduction in the disturbance of nests due to COVID restrictions. But all those nests allowed researchers to re-direct their study protocols right here in the Main Hawaiian Islands. 

To learn more about the turtle research being done in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, watch this presentation by Marylou Stamon:

To learn more about the turtle research being done in the main Hawaiian Islands, watch this presentation by Christina Coppenrath:

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Over on Oahu, there’s been a recent spate of Hawaiian monk seals getting hooked on fishing lines. So, NOAA and Hawaii DLNR put together this video with tips on how to prevent hooking, as well as, what to do if you hook a seal or see a hooked seal. There’s some good information in here. Please watch and share.

Don’t Feed the Seals Web Feature, 7-10-18 from Hawaii DLNR on Vimeo.

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Monk Seal Monday #110: $20,000 Reward.

The NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) is seeking information about the recent death of a juvenile Hawaiian Monk Seal, known as RL-52, along the coastline of Anahola Beach Park, on the northeast shore of Kauai on or about September 10, 2020.  

The seal was believed to have been shot.  

“The intentional killing of this endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal is a violation of federal law,” said Assistant Director Martina Sagapolu of OLE’s Pacific Islands Division in a statement released last Friday.  “It is our hope that this reward will encourage someone to provide us with the information needed to arrest and convict those who would commit such a heinous act.”

 Hawaiian Monk Seals are protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, with about 1,400 estimated alive today.  Under the ESA, it is illegal to unlawfully “take”, meaning to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct with respect to any endangered species or wildlife listed on the Endangered Species List. 

A reward of up to $20,000 may be paid if you provide information about a violation that leads to the issuance of a civil penalty or criminal conviction.

The mission of NOAA OLE is to ensure compliance with the laws and regulations enacted to conserve and protect our nation’s marine resources. Those with information about the death of RL-52 should contact the NOAA OLE enforcement hotline at 1-800-853-1964.  

Please share and spread the word.                        

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Field Report: September

Monthly Update: The Kauai team logged 152 seal sightings this month. This included 22 individually identified seals.

  • September: 152
  • August: 198
  • July: 120
  • June: 81
  • May: 147
  • April: 117
  • March: 200
  • February: 264
  • January: 319
  • December: 180
  • November: 223
  • October: 258
  • September: 203


·       One-year old male monk seal, RL52, was found dead on the east shore of Kauai.

·       An adult seal was harassed and chased into the water by three off-leash dogs at Kealia Beach. The seal left the beach uninjured. DOCARE is investigating.      

·       Adult male R332, a Niihau seal, was sighted by the PMRF crew on Kauai for the first time ever.


·       RH58 (Rocky) weaned her female pup, PK2, on Sept 15 after 39 days of nursing. The pup is fat, healthy and thriving. Since we are unable to flipper tag pups at this time, due to COVID-19, a bleach mark of V02 was applied to her fur.

·       RK28 (KC) weaned her female pup, PK3 on Sept 18 after 40 days of nursing. A bleach mark of V03 was applied to her fur. The mom and pup spent much of this time near large groups of campers and fishers within 100 feet of the pair, fishing sometimes as close as 10 feet to the seals. Signage was clearly posted around the seals; however, no direct outreach was conducted due to COVID. The seals appeared unbothered by the activity and there were no reports of human/seal interactions, aggression, or disturbance.

·       Due to COVID-19 stay-at-home measures, our new methods of monitoring continue:

o   Weekly surveys of key beaches by staff;

o   DAR staff conducting weekly island wide Creel Surveys;

o   PMRF staff continuing to send in routine reports and photos; and

o   Requesting that people who call the hotline to report seals assist us by sending several photos and setting-up SRA signs or sticks. 

·       The weaned pup, PK1, is ranging more widely. A report was made of young boys throwing small rocks at her. Lately, she is much more aware and wary of humans on the beach.

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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Monk Seal Monday #109: Weaner Update

In the good news department, all three of Kauai’s monk seal pups born this year are female. The more females in the population, the greater the potential for a boost in population numbers–super important with endangered species. Additionally, all three are no longer “pups” but “weaners,” as NOAA refers to Hawaiian monk seal pups after their mothers wean them.

The year’s first-born was PK1, born to RB00. PK1 nursed for 45 days. PK2, born to RH58, nursed for 39 days. And PK3, born to RK28, nursed for 40 days.

Due to COVID-19, none of the weaners have been flipper tagged. That also means none have been measured for girth and length. However, here’s an anecdotal assessment of their size: PK2 is fat. PK3 is fatter. PK1 is still the fattest, and she has actually slimmed down some since she was weaned in April.

Instead of flipper-tagging, the use of “bleach tags” will be used to identify the weaners. PK1 has been bleached V00. PK2 has been bleached V02. In the coming days, it’s hoped to bleach PK3 as V03.

As the oldest, V00 has already started moving around quite a bit these days–between the north and east sides of the island. V02 and V03 are still sticking close to their natal beaches; however, V03 has just started to explore a bit more in the past week. During this time, all three are learning how to feed themselves.

It’s not unusual for recently-weaned seals to approach other seals in the hopes of finding one with the milk-producing gifts that their mothers once provided them. Typically, this results in a scuffle between weaner and the second seal, sand and water flying. However, last week, when PK3 approached PK2, no scuffle ensued. No milk ensued, either. But, for about 30 minutes, PK2 showed extreme patience in allowing PK3 to nudge, push, and nip her in the hopes of a little nourishing milk. Here are some photos from that interaction.

PC: J. Thomton
PC: J. Thomton
PC: J. Thomton
PC: J. Thomton

The past several years, R400 birthed late in the summer along Na Pali coast; however, there have been no reports of her this year. Surprisingly she was sighted on Oahu for the first time ever this past July, and she did not look pregnant. So, maybe she’s taking a year off.

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