Archive for December, 2020

Monk Seal Monday #116: Top Ten

Below you’ll find the top ten “reported” Hawaiian monk seals on Kauai for 2020. By reported, we mean those monk seals that were called in—and identified—to the Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui hotline. (See a monk seal on the beach? Report it to 808-651-7668.)

Keep in mind, many things affect this list. Monk seals often have favorite locations where they haul out. 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. 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. Molting monk seals, too. As this list will also reveal, young monk seals are often sighted and reported, too, because they tend to make themselves noticed;-)

To make this list a little more interesting, we’ve included only those tagged seals, meaning pups are not included until they are weaned and flipper-tagged.

You might find it interesting to compare this year to last year. You’ll see a few regulars appearing in both years, as well as, some newcomers to the list. However, keep in mind, because of COVID-19 and the greatly abbreviated volunteer program, this year’s reporting numbers are, as expected, quite lower. What’s interesting is that the many years of work by the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui has educated the public so well that the hotline is still ringing. Concerned citizens are calling and reporting seals. This is in great part due to the diligent outreach efforts of the volunteer team.

So, here goes:

  1. With 90 reported sightings, one-year-old female RL58 tops the list. She was born to the famous RH58, also known as Rocky, in July of 2019. She remains close to her natal beach and has a preference for hauling out in rocky areas rather than sand, and doesn’t socialize with other seals much.
  2. With 66 reported sightings, the 20 plus year-old-female RK13 ranks second. She is the most well-known seal on Kauai’s east side, easily identifiable by her blind white left eye, many body scars, and worn red flipper tags that read 5AA and 5AB. She has given birth at least three times that we know of, including in 2012, 2015, 2018. Hopefully she will continue that pattern and pup again in 2021.
  3. With 61 reported sightings, seven-year-old RN30 ranks third. He tends to range far and wide with reported sightings of him from many different beaches on Kauai and Oahu.
  4. With 52 reported sightings, the seven-year-old R353 ranks fourth. She first showed up on Kauai in 2016 and is likely a Niihau girl. The past couple of years we watched her gradually get very large and pregnant, disappear for a couple of months and then return after losing about half her body weight. We suspect her pups were born on Niihau.
  5. With 45 reported sightings, one-year-old male RL08 ranks fifth. He was infamously fat as a pup, nursing two full weeks longer than the average nursing period of 40 days. It appears that 54 days of fatty milk gave him a head start as he now looks more like a 3-year-old seal, rather than the yearling he is.
  6. With 44 reported sightings, R3CD and RN44 are tied for sixth. These 6 and 7-year-old males, respectively, are difficult to tell apart. They are the same size, have very few scars, and often challenge each other for the right to rest near certain females. However, RN44 has recently become a regular seal sighted on Oahu, so R3CD may have less competition in 2021.
  7. With 43 reported sightings, two-year-old female RKA2 comes in at a very close seventh. She’s the offspring of the late, great, RK30, and has become a very faithful east side seal, although originally from Milolii Beach on the Na Pali Coast.
  8. And finally tied for eighth, with 41 reported sightings, are the four-year-old R1NS and nine-year-old RK90. These healthy large females are both most likely from Niihau, but tagged on Kauai as yearlings. R1NS is currently looking rather large, and we suspect she is pregnant for her first time. The question is, where will she go to pup?

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A couple weeks ago, a big 50+ year-old female Green sea turtle was discovered badly injured along the Māhāʻulepū coastline. She was reported to the hotline by beachgoers and due to her serious injuries, an immediate recovery response was initiated that included her transport to Oʻahu for care. After an exam by a team on Oʻahu, it was determined her lungs, which are located just under the carapace, had been lacerated and her spinal cord injured, likely causing paralysis of her rear flippers. Unfortunately, these are not the kinds of injuries that can be rehabilitated, and the turtle was humanely euthanized.

This was the 22nd turtle in 2020 reported struck by boats and/or boat propellers, hydrofoils, or other ocean vessels, causing DLNR to offer these best practices to reduce the potential for boat strike:

  • Post-a-lookout to help watch out for and avoid marine hazards. 
  • Drive slowly (5–10 knots) near harbors and boat ramps to assure a “turtle-safe” transit so both sea turtles and vessel operators have time to evade collisions. 
  • Maintain “Slow–No Wake” speeds within 200 feet of shore (vessels), and jet skis within 300 feet of shore (DLNR regulation). 
  • Provide a 50 foot buffer between boats and sea turtles, or be extra cautious when traveling over shallow reef habitats.   
  • Avoid feeding turtles either directly or inadvertently, such as when cleaning fish, so turtles don’t learn to associate boats with food.  
  • Wear polarized sunglasses in order to see marine hazards or sea turtles better.

Here is the press release DLNR issued on this particular stranding:

Hawaii DLNR

Dec. 11, 2020 

22 Boat Strikes in 2020 Raises Alarm 

(HONOLULU) – After being struck by a vessel and stranding at Māhāʻulepū, Gillins beach on Kauai, sea turtle stranding responders knew the prognosis was poor for this large (150 lb) green sea turtle. The animal was rescued from the beach and transported to O’ahu to be examined by a qualified sea turtle veterinarian that works with NOAA. There was hope that there might be a chance the turtle could survive its injuries and receive the necessary treatment and rehabilitation to be returned to the ocean.   

Dr. Gregg Levine, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) contract veterinarian received the turtle at the Veterinary Centers of America in Kāne’ohe Wednesday night. He has examined many of the 22 green sea turtles who have been struck by boat propellers, broadsided by boats themselves, hydrofoils, or other ocean vessels, so far this year. Unfortunately, most sea turtles struck by boats do not survive. This year only one turtle was sent to the Maui Ocean Center Marine Institute for Rehabilitation before being released back to the ocean to live another day.  

“As a veterinarian, it’s quite an honor to have the opportunity to treat an animal like a sea turtle. They are such ancient creatures with so much instinctual knowledge. To work with such animals and the amazing people that respond to these animals in need of assistance is amazing. Helping an injured sea turtle return to the wild is a highlight of my professional career,” Levine commented, before examining the latest boat strike victim. 

When Shandell Brunson, NOAA’s Sea Turtle Stranding Coordinator, arrived with the turtle at the veterinary clinic, the patient was barely moving, it was lethargic and barely breathing. Dr. Levine carefully transported the big turtle into an examination room. The most obvious injury was a large wound that exposed a large portion of the lungs. However, more serious, was suspected injury to the spinal cord.  The turtle’s rear flippers were hyperextended. The flippers appeared glued together and the turtle was unable to move them. Dr. Levine explained these were clear signs of damage to the spinal cord. Given the severity of the trauma to the shell and the apparent spinal cord injury, the decision was to humanely euthanize this large, beautiful, and otherwise healthy animal. 

“Whatever the outcome, far too many turtles are being struck by boats, and other vessels.  We need everyone to slow down and pay attention,” said Ed Underwood, Administrator of the DLNR Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR). The division, in partnership with NOAA, conducts continuous boater education and outreach to explain the devastating consequences, to Hawai‘i’s precious turtle population, when boats strike.  

“Clearly not all ocean-goers are getting the message and many probably don’t even know they struck a turtle because they’re either going to fast or not paying attention to what’s happening in the water around them,” Underwood added. Many of the boat strikes happen in relatively shallow waters and typically in or near small boat harbors and boat ramps, where speed limits and no-wake zones are always in effect.  

“A turtle that is struck by a vessel can sometimes make it to the beach and that’s where we find them either dead or seriously injured,” said Irene Kelly, the Sea Turtle Recovery Coordinator for the Pacific Islands Region of NOAA Fisheries. “We’ve had 22 reported sea turtles with boat strike injuries on O‘ahu, Kaua‘i and Maui since March. The most heartbreaking part is that large subadults and adults tend to be most at risk. They have survived for 30 or more years, have managed to avoid all other threats, but then get hit by a boat speeding over their home reef. Most of these incidents are avoidable if boaters would simply slow down and keep a close eye out for turtles in the ocean, and especially near harbors where there is high boat traffic.”  

DOBOR realizes that sea turtles can be difficult to see in the water, but it is possible to watch out for turtles and other marine hazards such as coral heads, swimmers, divers, or snorkelers. Fortunately, there are a number of best-practices to help reduce the potential for a boat strike, such as:  

  • Post-a-lookout to help watch out for and avoid marine hazards. 
  • Drive slowly (5–10 knots) near harbors and boat ramps to assure a “turtle-safe” transit so both sea turtles and vessel operators have time to evade collisions. 
  • Maintain “Slow–No Wake” speeds within 200 feet of shore (vessels), and jet skis within 300 feet of shore (DLNR regulation). 
  • Provide a 50 foot buffer between boats and sea turtles, or be extra cautious when traveling over shallow reef habitats.   
  • Avoid feeding turtles either directly or inadvertently, such as when cleaning fish, so turtles don’t learn to associate boats with food.  
  • Wear polarized sunglasses in order to see marine hazards or sea turtles better. 

Also, here are video clips of the exam with Dr. Levine that were released to the media. (Warning: Parts of this may be disturbing.)

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Field Report: November 2020

Monthly Update: The Kauai team logged 133 seal sightings in November. This included 26 individually identified seals.

  • November: 133
  • October: 152
  • September: 152
  • August: 198
  • July: 120
  • June: 81
  • May: 147
  • April: 117
  • March: 200
  • February: 264
  • January: 319
  • December: 180
  • November: 223


  • A weaned female monk seal pup was found dead along the coastline near Anahola, the same location as the death of RL52 in September, 2020. The seal was untagged and unknown on Kauai, likely a Niihau pup of the year. OLE officers immediately travelled to Kauai to begin an investigation, supported by DOCARE.
  • On Dec 2, 2020, a third dead monk seal was discovered along the same stretch of coastline. The seal was mummified and likely died weeks or months prior. The seal was subadult size and found in a location and position that would be considered normal for a resting monk seal.


  • OLE and DOCARE investigation in the suspicious deaths of 3 seals continues. A $20,000 NOAA reward for information was issued.
  • DOCARE investigation into the dog attack on an unknown seal at Kealia Beach remains open. All regular east side seals have been re-sighted in good health.
  • The three pups born in 2020 continue to be routinely sighted at, all in good body condition.
  • Due to COVID-19 stay-at-home measures, our new methods of monitoring continue, which include:
    • Weekly surveys of key areas conducted by Olry and Thomton
    • DAR staff conducting weekly island wide Creel Surveys
    • PMRF staff continuing to send in routine reports and photos
    • Requesting that people who call the hotline to report seals assist us by sending several photos and setting-up SRA signs or sticks. 


  • • Volunteer program remains on hold due to COVID-19.

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 #115: Meet RM28 and NH00.

Last week, PK3 received her permanent flipper tags. She now sports the tags M28 (a nod to her mother RK28) and M29 on her left and right rear flippers. (The photos above were taken pre-tagging by J. Thomton.)

PK1 (bleach-marked V00) and PK2 (bleach-marked V02) will be tagged when an opportunity presents itself–if they are found in safely catchable locations. Meanwhile, their bleach marks will remain until their first molt (somewhere around one year of age), so there’s still plenty of time to get them tagged, as well.

Last week, a new-to-Kauai seal appeared on the north shore sporting black flipper tags with the characters H00. (Kind of appropriate for the pending holiday season.) Thanks to a large database of all identified seals throughout the Hawaiian Island archipelago (maintained by NOAA), the seal was identified as one that was first tagged on Niihau as a weaned pup in 2016. She’s been seen every year since on Niihau. This is her first sighting outside Niihau. (Seals flipper-tagged on Niihau are given black-with-white-lettering tags.) (Photos by M. Olry.)

Here’s a photo of her as a weaned pup.

Photo credit: NOAA.

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