Archive for May, 2021

When it comes to sea turtles in Hawaii, Green sea turtles (honu) tend to capture headlines and the imagination. Likely because of their numbers. However, there are two other sea turtles considered native in Hawaii: the Hawksbill (honu’ea) and Leatherback.

The Leatherback is known as the world’s largest turtle, growing up to eight feet long and weighing 2,000 pounds. That’s some turtle. They’re most often seen offshore in deep water. They feed on jellyfish and other invertebrates. They do not normally nest on Hawaii’s beaches. As its name implies, the Leatherback does not have a hard shell.

That leaves the endangered Hawksbill. Sightings around Hawaii are also rare; however, they regularly nest on the beaches of Molokai, Maui and Hawaii Island. They measure up to three feet long and weigh 150 to 200 pounds. Their name comes from their long, narrow beak that they use to snag food in tiny cracks and crevices. Their lifespan is unknown reaching maturity between 20 to 35 years of age, and estimated to be 50 years or more. They feed on invertebrates, primarily, sponges that are toxic to most other animals, but they also eat algae, mollusks, corals, crustaceans, sea urchins, small fish, and jellyfish. Their meat is poisonous to humans.

According to NOAA, “Every 1 to 5 years, female hawksbill turtles return to nest on beaches in the general areas where they hatched decades earlier. Hawksbills generally lay three to five nests per season, which each contain an average of 130 to 160 eggs. The nesting season varies by location, but in most places occurs between April and November of each year. Hawksbills typically nest at night on small and isolated “pocket” beaches, with little or no sand and a rocky approach.  They usually nest high up on the beach under or in vegetation.”

In Hawaii, the Hawaii Wildlife Fund has been researching and monitoring nesting Hawksbills since 1996. They report there are fewer than 100 adult female Hawksbills known to nest in all of Hawaii. Since a female doesn’t nest every year, it’s estimated somewhere between 15 to 25 females nest statewide. Last year, two Hawksbill nests were discovered on Kauai. In the past few years, dead Hawksbill turtles have also been recovered. So, they’re around Kauai.

There are a few ways to distinguish a Hawksbill sea turtle from a Green sea turtle. First, the shape of their head and bill. Second, the design of their carapace. Third, their tracks. Finally, the color of hatchlings. For more details on the differences between the two species, see this brochure.

The threats for Hawksbill turtles are similar to those for Greens: bycatch in fishing gear, direct harvest of turtles and/or eggs, loss and degradation of nesting and foraging habitat, predation of eggs and hatchlings, vessel strikes, ocean pollution/marine debris, and climate change. For more details on the threats, visit this NOAA page.

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Field Report: April 2021

Update: The Kauai team logged 155 seal sightings this month. This included 31 individually identified seals.

  • April 155
  • March: 137
  • February: 119
  • January: 125
  • December: 119
  • November: 133
  • October: 152
  • September: 152
  • August: 198
  • July: 120
  • June: 81
  • May: 147
  • April: 117


  • Flipper tagged a new yearling seal likely from Niihau. New ID is R2XW. 
  • Flipper tagged 2020 pup PK1 as RM36. 
  • RB00 pupped on north shore beach. Pup KP1 is thriving.
  • 3-year-old male R1NI washed ashore dead at west side. Carcass was fresh code 2, collected and frozen on Kauai, then shipped to Oahu for necropsy. 
  • Return of visitors with Kauai entering Safe Travels Program causing increased disturbance to seals at Poipu. More signs put at racks at Poipu beach park to manage SRA without ropes and volunteers deployed.


  • Subadult male seal RK58 was returned from KKO after 6 weeks of rehab and released at on March 26. He was treated at KKO for likely dog attack injuries that resulted in significant weight loss and infected puncture wounds.
  • Due to COVID-19 stay-at-home measures, our new methods of monitoring continue, which include:
    • Weekly surveys of key areas 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. 

Morbillivirus Vaccination: RM28 received the initial vaccine this month.


  • 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 #131: KP1 Pupdate

Last week, RB00‘s pup, known as KP1, made two weeks of age. There’s still some question on sex for the youngster; however, there’s no question KP1 is progressing as a healthy young Hawaiian monk seal. That is, pup swims, nurses, rests, swims, nurses, rests, swims, nurses, rests. Mom’s taking pup for longer swims and will vocalize if her pup gets a little too far away. Also, as usual, RB00 and KP1 have received the sometimes unwanted attention from other seals cruising by a little too close for Mom’s comfort.

Hawaiian monk seal pups are born with a black lanugo coat, making it easy to spot any natural bleach marks, and this is no different with KP1 who has a white tip on the right fore flipper and a white nail on the left fore flipper–visible with a pair of binoculars. There’s also a substantial (see photo below) light-colored bleach mark on KP1’s belly/side. Note that as pup’s molt their lanugo about four to six weeks of age, these natural bleach marks often disappear as their normal gray fur grows in.

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Last month, NOAA Fisheries released its priority actions for 2021-2025. Click on the photo to read the plan.

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In 2019, a young untagged male monk seal was sighted on Kauai’s south shore. In October of that year, he was flipper-tagged, becoming officially known as R1N1. Following protocol, he was also vaccinated against morbillivirus. In a short time, R1N1 became part of the south shore “boys club,” a group of sub-adult males known to rough-house on Kauai’s south shore.

Then, in February 2020, R1N1 hauled out in Poipu, napping under a severely undercut and eroding lip of ground, concerning beach-goers and staff. The ground didn’t collapse on R1N1, but it did two days later.

Sadly, late last month, the three-year-old R1N1 was found dead at a west side beach. There was no obvious cause of death. He was in good health and body condition prior to death, and was last sighted on a south shore beach about three weeks prior. His body will be sent to Oahu for a full post-mortem (necropsy) exam

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