Archive for January, 2021

Vaccinations are a topic of great interest in our world these days–not only for humans but Hawaiian monk seals, too.

A few years ago, heading off the threat of a family of viruses known as morbillivirus, NOAA began an effort to vaccinate the majority of the entire Hawaiian monk seal population.

Morbillivirus is highly infectious disease that, in humans, accounts for measles and, in pet dogs, results in distemper. It spreads via respiratory secretions. Morbillivirus is no stranger to marine mammals, either. Outbreaks of morbilliviruses have killed tens of thousands of dolphins and seals worldwide.

There is little genetic diversity among Hawaiia monk seals, and research shows that monk seals do not carry antibodies to morbillivirus in their blood, so their immune systems are not likely to protect them from contracting the disease. With an estimated 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals, one such outbreak could be devastating to the recovery of the species.

Like the current vaccines rolling out for COVID-19, the ones used to inoculate monk seals require two shots–the initial dosage followed by a booster a couple weeks later.

Last year, with COVID-19, the usual routine of vaccinating Hawaiian monk seal weaners when they were flipper-tagged was put on hold, like so many things in our world. Well, last week, two of the monk seal pups born in 2020–PK1 (bleach-marked V00) and pK2 (bleach-marked V02)–were vaccinated against morbillivirus.

For more about the rollout of the morbillivirus monk seal vaccination plan, read here.

Here are some recent photos of PK1. (Photo credit: J. Thomton.)

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Field Report: December 2020

The Kauai team logged 119 seal sightings this month. This included 23 individually identified seals.

  • December: 119
  • November: 133
  • October: 152
  • September: 152
  • August: 198
  • July: 120
  • June: 81
  • May: 147
  • April: 117
  • March: 200
  • February: 264
  • January: 319
  • December: 180


Weaned female seal pup PK3 was flipper tagged by the Kauai team as RM28. The other two pups from 2020 will be tagged in January.


OLE and DOCARE investigation in the suspicious deaths of 3 seals continues. A $20,000 NOAA reward for information was issued. All carcass remains were shipped to Oahu in early December and are pending necropsy. 

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, 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 beaches conducted by DLNR and NOAA staff.
  • 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.

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Here are some year-end stats. Like everything for 2020, remember that these numbers are greatly influenced due to COVID-19, which paused the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui’s volunteer program.

Grand sightings total: 

  • 2,005 or 5.5/day monk seal sightings on Kauai in 2020.
  • 3,154 or 8.9/day in 2019.
  • 3,253 or 8.9/day in 2018.
  • 3,621 or 9.9/day in 2017.
  • 3,236 or 8.9/day in 2016.
  • 3,321 or 9.1/day in 2015.
  • 2,516 or 6.9/day in 2014.

Kauai population: 

  • 67 unique individual seals sighted on Kauai in 2020.
  • 67 in 2019.
  • 60 in 2018.
  • 60 in 2017.
  • 56 in 2016.
  • 53 in 2015.
  • 47 in 2014.

Births: 3 total born on Kauai in 2020.

  • V00 (bleach-marked) born to RB00 in March.
  • V02 (bleach-marked) born RH58 to in August.
  • RM28 (flipper-tagged) born to RK28 in August.

Mortalities: 6 confirmed mortalities in 2020.

  • R313 and fetus: adult female with near full term fetus, necropsy pending.
  • RJ36: 3-year-old male, hook ingestion, necropsy pending.
  • RKA6: 2-year old female, mummified condition, cause of death unknown.
  • RL52: 1-year-old male, necropsy pending, case under investigation.
  • Weaned female pup, ID unknown, necropsy pending, case under investigation.
  • Subadult seal, sex and ID unknown, mummified condition, cause of death unknown, case under investigation.

Niihau Seals (likely): sighted a minimum of 8 new seals in 2020, but likely more as several new untagged seals had no markings or scars so no temporary IDs were given.

  • 8 in 2020.
  • 5 in 2019.
  • 9 in 2018.
  • 12 in 2017.
  • 6 in 2016.
  • 14 in 2015.

Displacements: 4 total displacements occurred.

  • 3 displacements from unsafe or unsuitable locations (boat ramps, beach roads, sidewalks, etc).
  • 1 displacements from the Poipu keiki pool. 

Vaccination for morbillivirus efforts: 

Due to COVID-19, fieldwork was minimal and no seals were vaccinated. Plans are in place to resume vaccinations in 2021.

Bleach marking effort: 

6 bleach marks were applied.

Stranding Responses in 2020: 

One monk seal stranding response and 6 carcass retrievals:

  • RK13 – gillnet wrapped around muzzle was removed with a pole mounted cutting tool. 

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