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Archive for March, 2022

Monk Seal Monday #161: R7AA Cont.

She’s still there.

R7AA is still at Poipu. Thirty days straight now. She’s going out at night finally but hauling out daily and keeping the south side team busy.

More to come. Stay tuned.

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Monk Seal Monday #160: Uniquely R7AA

The saga of R7AA continues. Reports of R7AA’s unusual behavior in the past, including hauling out on roads, boat ramps, sidewalks; going hundreds of feet inland to sleep overnight; and even vomiting up 30 eels all at once. Recently, she added more adventures to her unusual antics. Beginning on Feb 27th, she began spending every night hauled up behind the lifeguard tower, cuddled up to a concrete block. Most nights she was accompanied by an adult male seal–RG58, RF28, or R6FQ. After about a week of staying hauled out 24/7, there was some concern something was wrong. She had molted last July at Poipu, and since monk seals only molt once per year, she had another four months until her expected molt. Her alertness was normal, her movement up and down the beach to thermoregulate at the waterline was normal, and all other observable behaviors appeared normal, but a close eye was kept on her.

Finally, after 12 straight days at Poipu all day and night, she finally started to show signs of molt, four months early. It has now been 23 days, and she is fully molted, but she continues to remain on the beach most of the day, leaving for a few hours, most likely to forage. But she returns and settles in at night.

She’s looking beautiful in her new coat, and is in normal body condition for a recently molted seal (thin but healthy), and so it’s expected that she’ll move along soon. 

The Poipu volunteer team deserves a major kudos for managing a possible record breaking haul-out of over 500 hours!

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Field Report: February 2022

Monthly Update: The Kauai team logged 233 seal sightings this month. This included 31 individually identified seals.

  • February: 233
    January: 233
  • December: 267
  • November: 168
  • October: 229
  • September: 251
  • August: 213
  • July: 286
  • June: 218
  • May: 209
  • April: 155
  • March: 137
  • February: 119

New:

·       Monk seal activity in the Poipu area remains high, with several seals hauled out daily on the very busy Poipu Beaches. 

·       Numerous new cookie cutter shark bites observed on various seals again this month. All wounds are healing normally.

Molting: Two seals molted last month at Poipu, a challenging location to manage seals that remain hauled out overnight for 10-14 days.

Volunteers:

·       Currently, volunteers are 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. This technique has proven effective and will continue until further notice. 

·       Per state rules, all DLNR volunteers are required to be vaccinated. Olry has verified vaccination status of all active volunteers.

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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Sleep: It’s important for everyone. Including Hawaiian monk seals, and especially after multi-day foraging trips. Or when monk seals are molting. And, of course, when mothers are nursing. Some seals sleep smack in the middle of a sandy beach. But it’s not unusal for some to snuggle up with rocks and/or logs; or slip under vegetation. Or whatever happens to be on the beach.

According to National Geographic, “Monk seals spend most of their time at sea, but they come ashore to rest on beaches and use fringe vegetation as shelter from storms.”

But there may be more to it than that.

Dr. Mimi Olry has been observing Hawaiian Monk Seals for 16 years as the Kauai Marine Mammal Response Field Coordinator for the DLNR/Division of Aquatic Resources/Protected Species Program. “I don’t know for sure,” she says, “But the moms and pups, and specifically more vulnerable young animals and molting adults go up to the vegetation or objects on the beach (picnic table, chaise lounge, log) at night for protection, to not be out in the open. This may be because they are solitary, and also to avoid the reach of the high tide during the night, adverse weather, and terrestrial predators.”

It’s likely Hawaiian monk seals are also catching a few winks underwater. This behavior has been witnessed at Niihau.

“Hawaiian monk seals can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes and dive more than 1,800 feet; however, they usually dive an average of 6 minutes to depths of less than 200 feet to forage at the seafloor,” NOAA reports. “They usually sleep on beaches, sometimes for days at a time. They also occasionally sleep in small underwater caves.”

This behavior isn’t unique to Hawaiian monk seals. Mediterranean monk seals have been caught napping underwater, too. As well, other pinnipeds like fur seals, who spend months at a time at sea. But, yes, of course, all seals have to wake up frequently to surface and breathe. Harbor seals practice what’s called “bottling,” in which they all but the seal’s face remains submerged, allowing the animal to breathe while resting and/or sleeping.

On narrow beaches or during times of high tides, this proclivity of Hawaiian monk seals to sleep under vegetation and/or manmade things can put them in precarious situations. Like these:

In most cases, it’s important to let sleeping seals lie. In some cases and with authorization, Dr. Olry and her team seek will displace these seals, so they find a safer place to sleep.

[All photos credit to NOAA and Kauai HMS Conservation Hui volunteers. Mahalo.]

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