Archive for July, 2021

As Tuesday, July 20, 2021 rolled around, Kauai’s second pup of the year was found on the beach alone. After 37 days of growing round from nursing, it appeared the pup had been weaned. Hawaiian monk seal mothers spend the entirety of their young pup’s life right by their side, not venturing out to replenish their lost fat stores from birth and weeks of nursing. Eventually, quite thin and hungry, they finally wean their pups to perpetuate their own lives.

But MK2 wasn’t quite gone. Later that afternoon, she returned to her pup. She left again during the night, this time, for good.

Unfortunately, the waters off Polihale can be rough with an on-shore break and strong current. Not a great place for a young “weaner” to learn how to be a monk seal.

So, on Thursday, July 22, 2021, a very plump KP2 was moved to another location with an off-shore reef and the kind of coastline that allows for a Hawaiian monk seal weaner to learn how for forage on her own. Yes, her. In moving her, it was clear that KP2 is female. Upon release in her new location, KP2 was also flipper-tagged and vaccinated. She is now officially RP20. Her left flipper has the tag P20 and her right P21.

Here’s a video of RP20 headed to the water a few minutes after being tagged.

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Today, he (yes, male) made 36 days old. KP2 and MK2 have stuck close to the Queens Pond area of Polihale and are currently slightly south of the popular swimming area. Speaking of swimming, KP2 is less of a swimmer than many other pups, being somewhat reluctant to go in the water. When he does, he always has an eye on the beach. Remember, there is little off-shore reef along this coastline. Often, MK2 has to coax KP2 away from the shore break about 50 yards to explore the few rocky/coral heads just offshore. That’s when his rear flippers can be seen flopping in the air as he attempts to dive down and investigate. However just like with other blubbery pups, he floats like a cork and hasn’t mastered how to overcome his buoyancy. The crowds at Polihale have been smaller than usual and nearly everyone has been respectful to volunteers, staff, and, most importantly, mother and pup. Based on MK2’s body condition, it’s expected she’ll wean KP2 sometime this week. It’s fairly common for most pups to wean about the 40-day-old mark.

Polihale is an unusual place for monk seals to pup. The last known pupping here was 1962. According to the brief notes/records from that era, the pup was abandoned by its mother. It was taken to Oahu and turned over to state wildlife officials, but unfortunately did not survive. 

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Common sense suggests that as more people head to the beach, more Hawaiian monk seals will be disturbed.

Sadly, that’s playing out as Hawaii “opens up.” 

Hawaiian monk seals spend a good chunk of their time in the ocean. They hunt for food by flipping over rocks, poking their nose under coral to find morsels of food—an eel or lobster, maybe a flatfish. But they’re mammals, so they’ve got to come to the surface to catch a breath of air. On a night—or sometimes multi-day—of foraging, they’ll “yo-yo” dive dozens, maybe a hundred times. Down they go to the ocean’s floor for a 10 or 15 minutes or so and up they come for a gulp of air. Down and up down and up down and up down and up down and up down and up down an up down and up. Sounds exhausting. When it comes time to rest, they’ll haul out on a beach or, even, rocky coastline to catch a few winks. Rest is an important part of a healthy Hawaiian monk seal’s life. Just as it is for you and me. When I don’t get a good night’s rest, I’m not as sharp the next day. I make more mistakes than usual. My reflexes are slower.

It’s especially important for a pregnant monk seal to get her rest. She’s got a baby growing inside her. 

Sometimes, disturbances to monk seals on the beach are unintentional. Monk seals can look a lot like a big volcanic rock. Unintentional or not, it’s still a disturbance. It still prevents a monk seal from getting the rest she needs. And it’s still illegal. 

Hawaiian monk seals are protected by state and federal laws. Federally, Hawaiian monk seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. It is illegal to harass, harm, pursue, capture, inure, or kill Hawaiian monk seals. 

In 2009, Charles Vidinha shot and killed a pregnant Hawaiian monk seal. He spent 90 days in prison, and the case prompted the passing of state legislation to make intentional harassing, harming, or killing a Hawaiian monk seal in Hawaii a class C felony that could result in a $50,000 fine and five years in prison.

In 2017, Shylo Akuna was sentenced to four years in prison for repeatedly punching a pregnant Hawaiian monk seal; a few days later, the seal gave birth at another beach. A key piece of evidence in this case was a video by a young woman that captured the entire assault. She posted it to social media.

In the past few days, another video has surfaced. This one of a woman who approaches a sleeping monk seal—a rather large monk seal—and places her hand on the seal’s hip area. The seal wakes, rears, and, likely, roars in the way monk seals do. And the woman races off. The scenic backdrop appears to be Polihale on Kauai’s west side The date of the video also happens to be a few days before MK2 gave birth.

A Twitter post by a Honolulu TV news anchor reports the woman is from Louisiana and backlash from the video is calling for more education targeting tourists. But there are signs around Hawaii’s beaches. There are social media accounts devoted to educating people about Hawaiian monk seals. There’s this website. All are aimed at educating people—both tourists and kama’aina. It doesn’t take much for someone to learn about Hawaiian monk seals. What’s needed is a change in human behavior toward a greater respect for wildlife. Too, visitors and kama’aina themselves can take the initiative to learn more about Hawaii’s wildlife—and let sleeping seals lie. 

There have been other cases of social media posts leading to consequences. In 2018, an Alabama resident was fined $1,500 for harassing a Hawaiian monk seal and sea turtle. In 2020, a North Carolina man was fined an undisclosed amount for slapping a Hawaiian monk seal. Now, NOAA OLE is investigating this latest egregious violation of Hawaiian monk seals and laws. There’s more to come from this story.

To learn more about NOAA OLE efforts, visit this website. It’s a little outdated but shows the efforts NOAA is taking to protect Hawaii’s marine animals.

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Field Report: June 2021

Monthly Update: The Kauai team logged 218 seal sightings this month. This included 28 individually identified seals.

  • June: 218
  • May: 209
  • April: 155
  • March: 137
  • February: 119
  • January: 125
  • December: 119
  • November: 133
  • October: 152
  • September: 152
  • August: 198
  • July: 120
  • June: 81


  • Unknown adult female pupped at Polihale State Beach Park. Challenging location with many vehicles driving on the beach, off-leash dogs, shoreline fishing, illegal camping, and extremely limited law enforcement. Beach access via a 5-mile rough road that typically requires a high clearance AWD vehicle. Technically the park is closed after sunset, however little enforcement is in place and therefore extensive night-time activity, beach driving, and camping continues. Extensive coordination with State Parks, DOCARE, PMRF staff, and volunteers was required to monitor the situation. The mother’s temporary ID is MK2, and the male pup is KP2.
  • Return of visitors causing increased disturbance to seals across the island. 


  • KP1 weaned from RB00 after 53 to 56 days of nursing. Flipper tagging and morbillivirus vaccination are planned for July. 
  • 3-year-old male R1NI washed ashore dead at Palamas Beach on the south shore. Carcass was fresh code 2, collected and frozen on Kauai, then shipped to Oahu for necropsy. Gross necropsy did not reveal much, awaiting histopathology lab results.
  • Subadult male seal RK58 was returned from KKO after 6 weeks of rehab and released on north shore on March 26. He was treated at KKO for likely dog attack injuries that resulted in significant weight loss and infected puncture wounds. Still no re-sightings of him since release.
  • 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; and
    • 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: RM58 received her booster vaccine this month.


  • The volunteer response program was restarted this month after being on hold since March, 2020. Currently, volunteers will be dispatched for hauled out monk seal reports to post signs, assess and ID the seal, collect routine data, and then depart the area. Outreach/education should be as minimal as possible to reduce COVID exposure risk. For busy locations, a spot check schedule will be established.
  • Informed volunteers of pup event, set up schedule to monitor. Few volunteers have 4WD and can assist with pup event

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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