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Archive for the ‘Pohaku/RO28’ Category

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Sadly, on April 1, 2020, after a 10-week-long battle with toxoplasmosis, a deadly parasitic disease, the adult female seal RO28 passed away.

Also known as “Pōhaku,” RO28 was 14 years old, in the midst of her prime reproductive years, when she died. She was born on Kauai’s north shore in 2006 to RK06. (RK06 was tragically shot to death while she was carrying a full-term pup. The pup did not survive the shooting.)

Over the years, RO28 has made her fair share of appearances on these virtual pages. Throughout her life, she gave birth to seven pups, the first six of which she pupped and raised until weaning along the same stretch of coastline on Kauai’s north shore where she was born. (It’s not uncommon for females to pup near their own birth site.) However, RO28 spent her recent years on the island of Oahu, only returning to Kauai to give birth.

Here’s a recap of what we know about RO28’s life:

  • In her early adolescent years, RO28 spent much of her time hauling out on rocks along the Poipu coastline.
  • On Good Friday in 2010, she was successfully de-hooked.
  • She was first sighted on Oahu at Kaena Point during the 2010 Semi-Annual Hawaiian Monk Seal Count. She was re-sighted twice shortly thereafter, once with a fresh cookie cutter shark bite on her back.
  • In 2013, RO28 gave birth to RN30 who has traveled to Oahu and has been regularly sighted on Kauai’s north shore.
  • In 2014, RO28 gave birth to RF28 who has ventured to Niihau and is also commonly reported along the Poipu coastline.
  • In 2015, RO28 gave birth to RG28 who often hauls out on Kauai’s South Shore. This birth was miraculously captured on video by one of our volunteers.
  • In 2016, RO28 gave birth to RH80 who regularly circumnavigates Kauai.
  • In 2017, RO28 gave birth to RJ28 who can be found on beaches on Kauai’s north shore and east side.
  • In 2018, RO28 gave birth to RKA4 who was last sighted at Kipu Kai.

In 2018, RO28 and two other mothers pupped near each other, resulting in multiple pup-switching incidents. This occurs in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands where more females are pupping on fewer suitable habitat. RO28 was successfully reunited with RKA4; however, one of the other moms, RH58, also known as “Rocky” eventually showed aggressive behavior toward her pup, and he was rescued by NOAA and successfully raised and eventually released back to the wild.

RO28 pupped on Oahu last year and weaned her pup. Unfortunately, the pup tragically died some time thereafter. NOAA reported, “The circumstances surrounding her death indicate that she did not die of natural causes.”

The loss of RO28 makes thirteen known deaths due to toxoplasmosis.

The first documented monk seal death due to toxoplasmosis occurred in 2001. That number has now risen to at least 13 monk seals, making it a leading threat to the main Hawaiian Islands population. Because seals disappear and die without being discovered, the actual number of deaths caused by toxoplasmosis is likely much higher. Unfortunately, the data indicates more females die than males, presenting another challenge to recovery of the species. According to NOAA Fisheres, “Every lost female means that her future pups, and their future pups, are lost to the world.”

What’s unique about RO28’s case is she was only the third monk seal with toxoplasmosis to be rescued alive. While the other two passed away within 48 hours, veterinarians and care-givers were able to work with RO28 for 10 weeks. During that time, she showed improvement at times, providing science with invaluable information that will, hopefully, one day allow for successful medical care for toxo-infected monk seals.

The parasite Toxoplasma gondii is a microscopic, single-cell organism. Just one of their eggs—known as oocysts— is enough to kill a monk seal. A single cat can excrete 145 billion eggs per year in its feces, according to DLNR. It’s a staggering number.

According to this NOAA report, “The parasite that causes ‘toxo’ sexually reproduces in cats, which shed T. gondii eggs into the environment via their feces. The feces of just one cat contains millions of T. gondii eggs that survive in the environment for many months.

“Any warm-blooded animal, including humans, can contract toxoplasmosis by ingesting a single T. gondii egg — and cats are essential for the reproduction and spread of the parasite.”

The loss of RO28 is yet another reason to keep cats indoors to protect cats and Hawaii’s native wildlife. Please.

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In the Hawaiian monk seal world, the term “logging” refers to a behavior performed by monk seals when they float on the surface of the ocean–not actively swimming–for extended periods of time. This time of year, it’s a behavior some very pregnant seals may exhibit in the days leading up to their delivery.

In the coming weeks, several females who regularly pup on Kauai may be seen logging in shallow water. Based on their pupping dates last year, these females anticipated due dates are as follows:

  • RK22 – June 22. (Although there’s no sign of her yet.)
  • RK30 – July 1.
  • RK28 – July 13
  • RO28 – July 16
  • RH58 – August 1

Logging by near-term pregnant females is natural behavior in monk seals. However, extended periods of logging can also be symptomatic of underlying health problems. When RK13 was healing from a suspected shark bite, she spent a fair amount of time logging in the shallow water of freshwater canals.

Logging can also be a symptom of toxoplasmosis, a disease that can be deadly to monk seals. Toxo is the number one disease threat to Hawaiian monk seals.

The parasite Toxoplasma gondii is a microscopic, single-cell organism. Just one of their eggs—known as oocysts— is enough to kill a monk seal. A single cat can excrete 145 billion eggs per year in its feces, according to DLNR. It’s a staggering number.

According to this NOAA report, “The parasite that causes ‘toxo’ sexually reproduces in cats, which shed T. gondii eggs into the environment via their feces. The feces of just one cat contains millions of T. gondii eggs that survive in the environment for many months.

“Any warm-blooded animal, including humans, can contract toxoplasmosis by ingesting a single T. gondii egg — and cats are essential for the reproduction and spread of the parasite.”

Since 2001, eleven Hawaiian monk seals have died of toxoplasmosis. Logging is one behavioral symptom. Of the 11 confirmed deaths due to toxo, eight were female. At least, two were pregnant. Unfortunately, once the disease progresses to the point of visual symptoms like logging, it can be too late for veterinarians to help. It’s not an easy death, either. It’s suspected the near-shore logging behavior occurs, because it’s too painful for the seal to haul out on the sand. In the days leading up to RB24‘s death due to toxoplasmosis, she was reported logging in canals on Oahu.

It can seem like a weird thing–how can the feces of pet (and feral) cats kill Hawaiian monk seals? To help explain, NOAA created this infographic and fact sheet. More information about toxoplasmosis can be found here and here.

And if you see a logging seal–whether pregnant or not–please report it to the Hawaiian monk seal hotline at 808-651-7668.

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No sooner than RB00 weaned her pup and RL08 was tagged than eight-year-old RK52 gave birth to a healthy pup on April 9th. After several days of observation, it’s been reported that PK2 is a boy. That makes two males for 2019.

RK52 is proving to be a solid mother, consistently chasing away other curious seals such as chunky RL08 and several other juvenile seals in the area. She was rather tolerant of them being within 10 feet of the pup for the first week, but her patience seems to be wearing thin over the past week, and she is now consistently shooing away others seals with aggressive posturing and vocalizations. The pup is a strong swimmer and is quickly gaining weight. Both mom and pup are doing well.

You may recall that RK52 gave birth to a stillborn pup last year. As far as we know, this is her second pup.

Both pups of 2019 are descendants of the legendary RH58, called by many as Rocky. RH58 herself appears pregnant again this year. As does another Kauai regular, RO28, so we can likely expect a couple more pups this summer.

Here are a few images of PK2’s first days of life.

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PC: Gary Langley

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PC: Gary Langley

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PC: Gary Langley

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Just two days shy of eight weeks after giving birth, RB00 finally weaned her pup, PK1.

RB00 nursed for a grand total of 54 days. That’s the longest stretch of nursing days for a Kauai pup going back to and including data on pups since 2012. The previous record was 51 days set in 2017 by RK30, a well-known (and well-storied) mom. Her pup was RJ36. The year prior, in 2016, RK30 nursed her pup (RH38) for a total of 50 days.

The average number of nursing days for Kauai moms since 2012 is 42 days. Last year, RK30 nursed for 49 days while both RK28 and RO28 nursed their pups for 39 days each.

The shortest number of nursing days occurred in 2012 when RK13 weaned RL10 after 32 days. During her pregnancy, RK13 experienced two injuries consistent with shark bites that left her in smaller condition than her usual pregnancy weight.

Here are some of the very last photos of PK1 with RB00 and also a few from his first day on his own. Watch for one photo in particular that illustrates clearly why some people theorize that the moniker “monk” for these seals harken to the kind of hood some religious monks wear as part of their habit.

As always, thanks to Gary Langley for so generously sharing his photographs.

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Monthly Update:
The Kauai team reported 33 individually identified seals in August for a grand total of 295 seal sightings this month. This equates to 9.5 seals sighted and reported each day.

August: 295
July: 414
June: 315
May: 332
April: 302
March: 299

New

  • A pup switch occurred for the first time on 7/20/18. RH58’s pup PK5 was forcefully taken by another mother RO28 who left her female pup PK4 alone on the beach. The Kauai team successfully reunited the correct moms with pups later that day. Another pup switch occurred on 8/2/18 when RH58’s pup PK5 was seen with another mother RK28 who had left her male pup PK3. Again, RH58 was alone but searching and calling for her pup. The Kauai team attempted to reunite the correct mothers to pups on 8/3/18. RK28 quickly took her pup PK3 back, however, RH58 rejected her pup and became aggressive toward him. The pup was left on the beach overnight in hopes that RH58 would reunite naturally. On 8/4/18, RH58’s pup PK5 was again found with RO28 at sunrise. RO28’s pup PK4 was nearby and began calling for her mother, who quickly left PK5 and rejoined PK4 without human interference. A final attempt at re-uniting PK5 with his mother RH58 occurred that morning of 8/4/18, however she continued to be aggressive toward the pup. The Kauai team captured PK5 (now permanent ID of RK58) mid-day on 8/4/18 and transported him to Lihue for USCG C130 transport to Ke Kai Ola for rehab.
  • Three seal pups weaned and were flipper tagged in August.
  • New adult male seal R8HD hauled out on Kauai after being flipper tagged on Molokai earlier this year. It was suspected this seal had been previously tagged, so the Kauai team was asked to scan the seal for a PIT tag, without disturbing the seal. A full scan was performed, no PIT tag was detected.

Updates:

  • The first pup of the year, now weanling RK42, was de-hooked by the Kauai team on 7/28/18. A large j-hook with 5’ of 100 lb test monofilament leader with swivel attached was removed from the right side of the seals mouth. The pup has not been resighted since de-hooking.
  • Bleach markings: No bleaches were applied.
  • Morbillivirus vaccinations: The North Shore pups RKA4 and RKA6 were fully vaccinated against morbillivirus.

Research/Support of PIFSC

  • Sub-sampled scat, molt, and tissue plug samples accordingly.

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Another girl! Because RK30 gave birth in such a remote location, it wasn’t until a boat dropped off a crew to tag RK30’s pup that the pup’s gender was officially confirmed. Her tags are KA2/KA3, so her permanent ID is RKA2. You might be able to identify her by her natural bleach mark on her head. It’ll be interesting to see, however, whether she retains that identifier as she ages and her coat changes color.

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PK4 was also tagged last week. (She was born to RO28.) Her tags are tags KA6/KA7, so her permanent identification is RKA6 .

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Monthly Update:
The Kauai team logged 35 individually identified seals on Kauai in July for a grand total of 414 seal sightings this month. This equates to over 13 monk seals sighted and reported per day.

June: 315
May: 332
April: 302
March: 299

New:

  • RH58 “Rocky” gave birth to male pup PK5 on 7/16/18.
  • A pup switch occurred for the first time on 7/20/18. RH58’s pup PK5 was forcefully taken by another mother RO28 who left her female pup PK4 alone on the beach. The Kauai team successfully reunited the correct moms with pups later that day. Another pup switch occurred on 8/2/18 when RH58’s pup PK5 was seen with another mother RK28 who had left her male pup PK3. Again, RH58 was alone but searching and calling for her pup. The Kauai team attempted to reunite the correct mothers to pups on 8/3/18. RK28 quickly took her pup PK3 back, however, RH58 rejected her pup and became aggressive toward him. The pup was left on the beach overnight in hopes that RH58 would reunite naturally. On 8/4/18, RH58’s pup PK5 was again found with RO28 at sunrise. RO28’s pup PK4 was nearby and began calling for her mother, who quickly left PK5 and rejoined PK4 without human interference. A final attempt at re-uniting PK5 with his mother RH58 occurred that morning of 8/4/18, however she continued to be aggressive toward the pup. The Kauai team captured PK5 (now permanent ID of RK58) and transported him to Lihue for USCG C130 transport to Ke Kai Ola for rehab mid-day on 8/4/18.
  • The first pup of the year, now weanling RK42, was de-hooked by the Kauai team on 7/28/18. A large j-hook with 5’ of 100 lb test monofilament leader with swivel attached was removed from the right side of the seal’s mouth.

Updates on previous reports:

  • RK28 gave birth to PK3 on June 26.
  • RO28 gave birth to PK4 on June 30.
  • Bleach markings: No bleaches were applied.
  • Morbillivirus vaccinations: No seals were vaccinated.

Research/Support of PIFSC

  • Sub-sampled placenta from RH58.
  • Sub-sampled scat, molt, and tissue plug samples accordingly.
  • Logged all seal sightings for Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) database. Organized photos and reported sightings, molt tallies, survival factors to send to PIFSC.

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