Archive for April, 2021

Monk Seal Monday #128: RB00 Pups Again

For the third year in a row, RB00 made the long-distance journey from Hawaii Island to Kauai to give birth near her own natal site. Based on reported sightings, the journey took her eight days. RB00 was first sighted on Kauai’s north shore last Wednesday, and by Friday morning, she had pupped.

About six hours after giving birth, “mega-mom” RB00 decided it was about time for KP1 to go for a swim. She began inching her blubbery way into the water and called for her pup to follow. It did, until a small wave rudely tossed the pup about, and mom had second thoughts. Then, RBOO harshly scolded the pup for being in the water, smacked it with her fore-flipper and directed KP1 to shore. The slide slow below shows the sequence of events, including the final photo showing the post-squabble makeup.

Otherwise, mom appears to be attentive, and fairly calm in response to public presence. Additional swim lessons ensued on day two of life, which the pup successfully completed.

Note: Last year, pups were referred to sequentially based on birth order, starting with PK. For example, last year’s pup born to RB00 was logged as PK1. Because only two out of three of last year’s pups have been flipper-tagged, this year’s pups will be sequentially numbered based on birth order, starting with KP. This will, hopefully, prevent any confusion.

Photo credit: J. Thomton.

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This weekend, several people called the hotline to report a monk seal with a gnarly wound. Turns out, it was eight-month-old RM28, born to RK28 last August. The wound was a what remained after a cookiecutter shark latched onto RM28, swiveled, and took off with a plug of flesh.

Thankfully, Hawaiian monk seals have an amazing ability to heal wounds such as these through a process called “tissue granulation,” and already, RM28’s wound is starting to heal around the edges.

PC: J. Thomton

The most common shark encounters that monk seals have is with cookiecutters. Almost all Hawaiian monk seals have scars that were inflicted by cookiecutter sharks. But the wounds heal quickly, as this one will, and might one day be almost impossible to see.

The cookiecutter shark, also called a cigar shark, isn’t the most photogenic.


The species can be found in warm, oceanic waters worldwide. Its common name comes from the cookie-cutter-like wounds it leaves in its prey. This small shark grows 16 to 22 inches in length. It lives at depths of 3,200 feet during the day but moves up the water column at night to feed, which it does by using its suction cup-like lips to lock onto its prey. Then, it spins its body, using the row of serrated teeth on its lower jaw to remove a plug of flesh, leaving behind crater-like wounds that are two inches across and approximately two-and-a-half inches deep.

One of the more interesting characteristics of cookiecutter sharks is they glow bluish-green, because its underside is bioluminescent. But cookiecutters also have a non-luminescent band to deceive its predators into thinking it’s smaller than it really is. When its predator moves in, the cookiecutter shark goes on the offensive, snagging a hunk of flesh for its meal. They are considered parasites.

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Monk Seal Monday: #126: Meet M36

Finally, last year’s first-born pup, who came into this world the day before a big storm on March 15 to RB00, was flipper-tagged M36 (left flipper) and M37 (right flipper). Seals typically receive their flipper-tags shortly after being weaned. At the same time, measurements are taken–length and girth. However, when M36 weaned after 45 days of nursing on the last day in April, COVID precautions prevented any seal handling. Until last week.

Last summer, M36 was bleach-marked “V00,” and the bleach is still visible on her side; only instead of bleached white, it’s green. In the next few weeks to couple months, M36 will experience her first catastrophic molt, in which over 10 days to two weeks, she’ll shed the top layer of her skin and fur. Seals spend such a great amount of time at sea that algae actually grows on their fur. Once she finishes molting, M36 will sport a new silvery coat.

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Field Report: March 2021

Monthly Update: The Kauai team logged 137 seal sightings this month. This included 28 individually identified seals.

  • March: 137
  • February: 119
  • January: 125
  • December: 119
  • November: 133
  • October: 152
  • September: 152
  • August: 198
  • July: 120
  • June: 81
  • May: 147
  • April: 117
  • March: 200


·       A neonate monk seal pup was found dead at Makua – Ha’ena Beach Park area. The road to Hanalei was closed due to a landslide at this time, and therefore no response was possible. A local resident assisted by taking photos and burying the carcass on the beach. The pup’s umbilical cord was still attached. No pregnant seals were known to be in the area, therefore the mother’s identity is unknown.

·       A new adult female seal was sighted at PMRF with remarkable scars and given an official ID. Scars do not match to any existing known seal. ID is now temp 603.

·       Closely-monitored, juvenile male RL08 who remained hauled out in the same location for seven days. It was uncertain whether the seal had been foraging at night or remaining in the same location for the entirety of time until vacating the area. RL08 appears to be foraging normally now.

·       Monitored several pregnant seals that are likely to pup on Niihau in the next couple months.


·       Adult female RK13 continues to be closely monitored due to previous logging behavior and possible dog bite injuries. Two doses of antibiotics were administered using the pole syringe in February. RK13 appeared stable and healthy in March.

·       Subadult male seal RK58 was returned from KKO after 6 weeks of rehab and released on the north shore. He was treated at KKO for likely dog attack injuries that resulted in significant weight loss and infected puncture wounds.

·       Again this month, off-leash dogs continue to be a problem. This past month dogs at Shipwrecks Beach, and Kukui Ula harbor in Poipu were problematic. Worked with DOCARE to monitor and enforce leash violations.

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

  • Weekly surveys of key beaches conducted by 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. 

·       Bleach marks applied: juvenile female, unknown, applied V7 bleach mark.


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

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Monk Seal Monday #125: RK58 Returns Home.

On Friday, March 26, RK58, a juvenile male, made his return flight to Kauai via the U.S. Coast Guard. He spent five-and-a-half weeks at Ke Kai Ola, also known as the Monk Seal Hospital, on Hawaii Island. 

RK58 had a challenging recovery after suffering severe trauma wounds to the head, neck and left front flipper from a suspected dog attack. Read here for more on his condition when he first arrived at Ke Kai Ola. 

“We are so grateful that The Marine Mammal Center was able to immediately activate and provide the intensive care that these two patients needed,” said Dr. Michelle Barbieri, Lead Scientist for NOAA’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program, in a press release. “Their return to the wild is important for the future of the species and we are glad that they are back home.”

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