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Archive for the ‘R313’ Category

The female monk seal identified as R313 was somewhat elusive. Over the years, she’d be seen for months and weeks and days, gaining weight, looking evidently pregnant; then, she’d disappear for six or eight weeks. Only to reappear looking quite skinny.

It was always assumed R313 was born on Niihau and returned there when it came time to deliver her own pups, a practice that’s not unusual among Hawaiian monk seal moms.

In 2020, R313 was repeating this same pattern. She was reported to the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui 13 times since the start of the new year, first appearing on January 4th looking freshly molted. She was reported every few days thereafter until March 15th about the time COVID-19 restrictions reduced our volunteer efforts and all but eliminated beach-going activities. None of these reports indicate anything amiss with R313.

It was nearly six weeks later before R313 was next reported to the hotline, and on the afternoon of April 25th, she was confirmed dead at Hā’ena Beach Park. Sadly, she was also pregnant at the time. R313 was estimated to be, at least, 15 years old at the time of her death.

Screen Shot 2020-05-11 at 6.41.36 PM

Here, a resting R313.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, a necropsy was not conducted; however, her fetus and placenta were preserved for sampling and testing at an appropriate time in the future. This might reveal some clues as to the cause of R313’s death. There were no external signs of trauma, but not all trauma is visible. R313’s body was removed from the beach and buried.

R313 was not flipper-tagged but sometimes bleach-tagged as V23. However, she was easily identified by her numerous cookie cutter shark scars on her back and belly along with several line scars.

The most common causes of death in main Hawaiian Islands monk seals include fisheries interactions, trauma, and toxoplasmosis. None of these can be ruled out as the possible cause of R313’s death at this time.

As a regular on Kauai, R313’s presence will be missed along with her contributions to the Hawaiian monk seal population.

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Field Report: January 2020

Monthly Update: The Kauai team logged 319 seal sightings this month. This included 39 individually identified seals.

January 319
December: 180
November: 223
October: 258
September: 203
August: 324
July: 239
June: 179
May: 262
April: 348
March: 350
Feb: 303

New:

·       As a volunteer arrived to assess a seal that had recently hauled out, she observed a man poking adult female R1KY with a stick. The volunteer conducted outreach and found the seal resting normally.

·       The general public reported that a small seal hauled out at Shipwrecks Beach on the south shore and was quickly chased back into the water by an off-leash dog. The seal was unharmed.

Updates:

·       Subadult female R7AA, dehooked the previous month, was re-sighted 4 times in January in good condition and completely healed from the hooking.

·       Five of the six pups born in 2019 have been sighted recently and continue to thrive, the sixth is likely on the remote Na Pali Coast.

·       Displacements: RJ36 was displaced (with permission from NOAA) from the Poipu Keiki Pool for the first time. Two weeks later he hauled out on the Keiki Pool Beach again, but was in an unsafe location for displacement so was not hazed off the beach.

·       Molting: RN44 molted at a remote north shore beach and RK90 molted at a remote west side beach, requiring little volunteer response and outreach effort. Adult female R313 also appears freshly molted.

·       Bleach marking: 2 applied this month.

Research/Support of Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center:

·       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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During a weekend in April 2018, a record-setting storm ravaged Kaua’i. Not a square yard of the island was spared. Lightning lit up the sky. Thunder shook the walls of homes down to their foundation. Streams swelled into rivers and rivers into raging water racing for the ocean, sweeping away homes and cars and, even, buffalo en route.

The hardest hit was a stretch of approximately eight miles on the North Shore, beginning just west of Hanalei and stopping at the road’s end at Ke’e. When it was all said and done, one rain gauge measured a 24-hour rainfall of a whopping 49.7 inches. A U.S. record. All that rain triggered rockslides, ripped out sections of the road, and damaged bridges, instantly making Historic Highway 560 impassable. The road closure reduced the number of people on Haena’s beaches from 3,000 to, maybe, three daily.

With so few people on the beach, there was little need for volunteers to help with outreach. However, a few stalwart volunteers who live in the area continued to scout for seals, conducting health assessments and providing reports to the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui.

On Monday, June 17, 2019 the road re-opened to the public for the first time, and by 8:30 in the morning, RK52 was reported on the beach. She’s a regular there. But R313, RK05, RH38, RK14 and several others have been sighted on these beaches, as well.

There are only a few volunteers in the Haena area; however, lifeguards and Haena residents often help out by setting up signs and monitoring seals. To prepare for the return of visitors now that the road is open and the beaches are filling up again, racks filled with signs are stationed every 200-300 yards beginning at Hanalei Colony Resort all the way to the very end of the road at Ke’e Beach Park. This is approximately a 4 mile stretch of beach. We welcome the assistance of all beach users to assist with educating visitors who may approach seals too closely or not understand that seals often haul-out and rest alone along this shoreline. If you’d like to become a trained volunteer, please call 808-651-7668.

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Hawaiian monk seals can pup anytime throughout the year, but the majority tend to do so in the spring and summer. Typically, at the start of the year, our team starts tracking pregnant females, watching out for the regulars like RH58, RK30, and RK13. But the list will also include others and can tally more than 10. But we’ve yet to hit double digits in annual pup births on Kauai—at least, in recent history. There are likely moms who miscarry and others (like RK52) who produce stillborn pups. But a handful of pregnant females seem to disappear right before they give birth. Then, they return six or eight weeks later looking thin.

In science, “philopatry” is the tendency for an animal to stay or habitually return to the same place. “Natal philopatry” is the tendency for an animal to return to their birthplace to breed. In the case of Hawaiian monk seals, we often—but not always—see females return to their birthplace to pup. 

The Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program estimate approximately 300 of the endangered pinnipeds make their home in the Main Hawaiian Islands. On Kauai, we roughly estimate 50, although some seals do make inter-island trips. The island associated with the greatest number of monk seals is Niihau—at 150. Roughly 15 ocean miles separate Kauai from our neighbor island of Niihau. This is not a considerable journey for monk seals. In 2010, one monk seal outfitted with a tracking device made a 2,000-mile pelagic journey. So, for monk seals, 15 miles might be considered a walk in the park. And this can explain why 10 pregnant seals sighted on Kauai beaches results in five pups born on Kauai. A few return to their birth place on Niihau when it’s time for them to pup.

Here’s some data to illustrate:

RK14: A Kauai regular who was observed in 2017 with a pup on Niihau. RK14’s window of absence from Kauai was 8/16/17 to 11/23/17, but she isn’t sighted routinely–she likes to haul out on remote North Shore and Na Pali beaches, so her absence was most likely shorter.

R1KY: A Kauai regular who was observed in 2017 with a pup on Niihau. R1KY’s window of absence from Kauai was 4/8/17 to 6/16/17. In 2018 she wasn’t sighted on Kauai from 5/30/18 to 7/17/18, but no surveys happened on Niihau during this window so we’re unsure if she pupped. Here are before and after photos of her.

R1KY on 04182018R1KY on 07172018

R313: In 2017, she disappeared from 7/26/17 until 9/23/17, looking very large in July, but still pretty big when she came back, so we’re not sure what happened during that time. In 2018, she looked large and had teats protruding on 6/26/18 and was next sighted back on Kauai on 9/1/18 looking thin. 

In 2017, RK28 was on Kauai with teats protruding on 6/5/17, then gone until 8/24/17 when she was reported as “thin.” In 2018 she pupped on Kauai’s North Shore.

In 2018, RK90 likely pupped on Niihau between 12/28/17 and 2/17/18.

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(P)update #30

Right here. This photo explains why monk seals are known as true seals.

Photo credit: G. Langley

Taxonomically, the Hawaiian monk seal belongs to the order of pinniped, a member of the group of marine mammals that also includes sea lions, fur seals, and walruses. But here is where monk seals differ. Monk seals are part of the family Phocidae–true seals–members of which are characterized by their lack of external ear flaps. Monk seals’ ears are visible as small holes on the sides of their head; a narrow canal leads to the middle ear.

There are some other unique attributes that distinguish true seals from sea lions, fur seals, and walruses. We’ll get to those in future posts.

Photo credit: G. Langley

A little over three hours of swim time and three feedings were observed today for PK2 (born to RK22). No encounters with male visitors but 3CU, Temp 325 and R313 were in the area.

Photo credit: G. Langley

Photo credit: G. Langley

Our newest pup PK3 (born to RO28) is starting to spend more time in the water–sleeping as well as napping.

Photo credit: G. Langley

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(P)update #11

It was another seal-y day. This time, a female, R313, hauled out about 40 feet away from mom, RK22, and pup, PK2. There was no interaction until the male RV18 showed up. Only this time, his interests were focused on R313.

Mom and pup logged an early morning two-hour swim, and a one-hour-and-ten-minute swim in the afternoon. Four feedings were observed throughout the day. 

Photo credit: G. Langley

Photo credit: G. Langley

Photo credit: G. Langley

Photo credit: G. Langley

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First Kaua`i Pup of 2016

First Kaua‘i Pup of 2016

On April 26, a video showed a seal at Salt Ponds County Beach Park being harassed by a man. The seal was reported as RK30, a 17-year-old female and pregnant at the time. The video went viral, and a 19-year-old man was arrested within a few days by Hawai‘i State DLNR officers and NOAA Law Enforcement. Story here and video here.

The good news is that less than a week later, RK30 gave birth to her seventh pup. Story here.

PK1b

IMG_7357

We expect more to be born on Kauai, so be on the look out for any small black pups! Here is our schedule of expected births:

  • RK13 Due possibly any day, though her pregnancy is unsure.
  • RK22 Due at the end of May
  • RO28 Due June 10
  • RH58 Due July 28
  • RK14 Pupped early July 2015, usually pups on Ni’ihau
  • R313 Not sure when she pupped 2015, usually pups on Ni’ihau
  • RK28 Likely pupped June 2015 on Ni’ihau

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