Archive for January, 2023

Monk Seal Monday #182: The Passing of RM28.

The Marine Mammal Center and The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced last week that three-year-old female RM28 passed away at Ke Kai Ola, the “Monk Seal Hospital,” in Kailua-Kona. They suspect she died from injuries due to severe shark bite trauma.

“Our team is deeply saddened to report the loss of RM28, especially knowing that this three-year-old seal could have played an important role to further boost the population of this endangered species,” said Dr. Sophie Whoriskey, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Veterinarian at Ke Kai Ola, in a statement.

RM28 was a well-known seal around Kauai. Born to RK28 in 2020, last year, RM28 ranked tenth on the list of most reported seals, indicating she liked to haul out at beaches where she was seen–and reported–by beach-goers. The year before, in 2021, she ranked fourth. In her short life, she made news on these pages–for hauling out in the keiki pool in Poipu, triggering her displacement on several occasions. And for an unusual fishing entanglement in June of last year. She hadn’t ingested a fish hook. Nor lodged the hook in her jaw. No, she’d somehow gotten the hook embedded into the external side of her neck. The response team was easily able to free her from the hook. In 2021, when RM28 was eight months old, she was reported with a round chunk of flesh missing above her left fore flipper. The wound was what remained after a cookiecutter shark latched onto her, swiveled, and took off with a plug of her flesh. That wound quickly healed. Unlike, sadly, those from another shark earlier this year.

The statement on RM28’s death from the Marine Mammal Center went on to report:

During the seal’s initial critical care period, Center experts stabilized the animal and began treating RM28 for extensive and severe wounds consistent with shark bite trauma. During the admission exam, the Center confirmed NOAA’s initial assessment and diagnosed the patient with severe shark bite trauma. The Center’s experts noted the animal was in poor body condition, administered antibiotics and pain medication, and also took a series of blood samples and swabs for further analysis. Despite the team’s best efforts, RM28 died in treatment on January 16.

A necropsy, or animal autopsy, was performed the next day to determine the cause of death. After a thorough necropsy exam, Center experts suspect that RM28 likely died directly from the severe trauma or due to complications associated with the trauma. The Center’s team is awaiting bloodwork diagnostics to determine whether the seal also had any underlying health complications. No other immediate findings of significance aside from the trauma and poor state of condition were found during the necropsy exam.

After displaying lethargic behavior, RM28 was rescued in a shallow cove off the Kauaʻi coast on January 11 by NOAA’s trained experts with assistance from the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources’ (DLNR) Division of Aquatic Resources. NOAA received reports of RM28 appearing to be in poor condition the previous day. The animal was immediately brought to a DLNR facility on Kauaʻi for initial assessment and triage care. NOAA experts diagnosed the seal with severe wounds consistent with shark bite trauma and noted the animal was in poor condition.

RM28 was airlifted and transferred into the Center’s care at Ke Kai Ola via the U.S. Coast Guard for further rehabilitation on January 12. This action was taken after NOAA experts determined the animal needed long-term rehabilitative care and had stabilized enough for transport.

“Thanks to the numerous reports from concerned residents about this seal’s injuries, we were able to respond quickly and determine that RM28 needed veterinary care. She was a well-known seal on the beaches of Kauaʻi, and we are saddened by this loss.” said Jamie Thomton, NOAA Fisheries’ Kauaʻi Response Coordinator.

Although shark attacks are not uncommon, negative human interaction, fisheries interaction via hooking and entanglements, and diseases like toxoplasmosis are the main threats the endangered Hawaiian monk seal population faces on the main Hawaiian Islands.

As the only partner organization permitted by NOAA to treat and rehabilitate Hawaiian monk seals, The Marine Mammal Center is proud that nearly 30 percent of monk seals that are alive today are due to conservation efforts led by NOAA and partners like the Center.

Since 2014, the Center has rehabilitated and released 37 monk seals, most of which have been rescued from and returned to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as part of the Center’s partnership with NOAA Fisheries, utilizing resources in the area to identify seals in need, rescue and rehabilitate them, and give them a second chance at life.

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Here’s another recap for 2021. This list identifies the top ten Hawaiian monk seals “reported” on Kauai during 2022. “Reported” seals are those that were called in—and identified—to the Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui hotline. (See a monk seal on the beach? Report it to 808-651-7668.)

However, what’s not included in this list are mom/pup reports. Because “pup watches” by dedicated volunteers tend to elevate pup “reported” numbers and because moms spend the first four to six weeks of their pups’ lives right by their sides, the reports of the mom/pup days are not included.

Keep in mind, other things affect this list. Monk seals often have favorite locations where they haul out. If a monk seal favors a location that happens to be easily accessible by humans, bingo, that seal will be reported more often to the hotline. Molting monk seals get reported more often, too. As well, young monk seals are often sighted and reported more, too, because they tend to hang around and make themselves noticed;-) Lastly, volunteers impact this number, too. Those dedicated volunteers who regularly scout certain beaches for monk seals (thank you very much) will also help inflate a certain seal’s confirmed reports.

Take a look at the Top Ten list for 2022:

  1. RF28: 108 confirmed sightings. Born in 2014 to R028 (who died of toxo after valiant try by veterinarians to treat and save her). Bottom lip scar left side. Most telling ID: Natural bleach mark over left shoulder. left tag gone. Bottom right tag broken.
  2. RK58: 104 confirmed sightings. Born on 7/16 in 2018 to RH58. Pup switch resulted in abandonment at 19 days age. Raised at Ke Kai Ola. Released from captivity on 2/11/2019. Returned to Ke Kai Ola for rehab 2/16/21 due to infected dog bites.
  3. RG58: 97 confirmed sightings. Born 2015 to RH58. Natural bleach above tail, line scar left rear. One of our biggest males.
  4. TempV11: 74 confirmed sightings. Subadult male/ bleached marked Feb. 2022 because too few scars to ID. Became a regular at Poipu in spring 2022. Pit scar mid back, scar left neck.
  5. R371: 70 confirmed sightings. Niihau female w/pup 2017.  Large shark bite right rump and in front right fore flipper, natural bleach mark on top of head, pit scar base of left fore flipper, hook scar left corner of mouth, cookie cutter right shoulder, crescent flap scar belly. Likes to hang out at Mahaulepu and Shipwrecks.
  6. RM36: 68 confirmed sightings. Nice big sub-abult female. Tagged 4/21/2021. Pup of RB00; born 3/15/2020. Cookie cutter scar on right shoulder.
  7. R2XW: 67 confirmed sightings. Very small juvenile female from Niihau. Tagged 4/5/2021 at Glass Beach Eleele. 88 cm auxiliary girth. 
  8. RQ52: 56 confirmed sightings. Born to R400 at Polihale on 6/25/2022. Nursed for 38 days. Translocated to safer location after weaning. Eventually, she moved back to the west side.
  9. R7AA: 54 confirmed sightings. New small Niihau female seal to Kauai 6/2017. Monitored for back abscess, caught and treated and tagged 9/2017. Over the years she has demonstrated unique behavior when molting—moves high up the beach at night and onto resort furniture, parking lots and streets, so must be closely monitored.
  10. RM28: 51 confirmed sightings. Born to RK28 in 2020. De-hooked in June 2022. Also involved in displacements at Poipu keiki pool.

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Grand sightings total: 

o   3,381 or 9.3 seals sightings/day on Kauai in 2022

o   2,377 or 6.5/day in 2021

o   2,005 or 5.5/day in 2020

o   3,154 or 8.9/day in 2019

o   3,253 or 8.9/day in 2018

o   3,621 or 9.9/day in 2017 

o   3,236 or 8.9/day in 2016

o   3,321 or 9.1/day in 2015

o   2,516 or 6.9/day in 2014

Kauai population: 

o   69 unique individual seals sighted on Kauai in 2022

o   65 in 2021

o   67 in 2020

o   67 in 2019

o   60 in 2018

o   60 in 2017

o   56 in 2016

o   53 in 2015

o   47 in 2014

Births: 3 total born on Kauai in 2022

Mortalities: 1 confirmed mortality in 2022:

o   R7GM: adult female died from birthing complications related to twin full-term fetuses.

Niihau Seals (likely): sighted a minimum of 9 new seals in 2022, but likely more as several new untagged seals had no markings or scars so no temporary IDs were given (8 in 2021, 8 in 2020, 5 in 2019, 9 in 2018, 12 in 2017, 6 in 2016, 14 in 2015).

Displacements: 21 total displacements occurred.

o   21 displacements from the Poipu Keiki Pool. 

Vaccination for morbillivirus efforts: 

o   2 seals were vaccinated

Bleach marking effort: 

o   14 bleach marks were applied

Stranding Responses in 2022:

Hawaiian monk seal responses: 

o   RM28: Hooked. Captured and hook removed on the beach by the Kauai team.

o   RP28: Hooked. Leader trimmed, seal then threw hook on own.

o   R2XW: Hooked. Leader trimmed. Follow-up response required vet support to sedate and removed hook from around mandible. Procedure conducted at DLNR baseyard. 

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Turtle Tuesday #12: Honu Rescue

Even turtles, it seems, like a quiet place to take a nap. Thankfully, last week, when one honu got itself into a rather tight place among some boulders along the jetty at Nawiliwili Harbor, a couple of kind beachgoers saw and went to great lengths to help it. The stranded honu, and subsequent effort to free it, even caught the attention of local news stations.

The tight location wasn’t the only challenge. When the stranding crew arrived in the evening, it was low tide. Some rocks and boulders had been moved to access the turtle; however, the team had to wait until the next morning when the tide returned to “float” the turtle. That made is possible to turn the honu around and extricate it from the opening. An in-field exam showed no injuries, and once the turtle was released into the water, it made a hasty retreat. The opening in the jetty wall was filled with rocks, so, hopefully, no other turtle decides to camp overnight in the same spot.

Spot an injured or dead sea turtle? Call the Hawaiʻi statewide NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline at (888) 256-9840. Stranding teams are always on stand-by 24/7, including weekends and holidays.

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