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Archive for the ‘R5AY’ Category

As you may recall, the first Kauai pup was born on April 20, 2018 at Maha’ulepu to RK13. While this pup was with her mother she was known as PK1 (Pup Kauai #1), and then after 37 days of nursing, her mother weaned her, and we briefly captured and flipper tagged her. This process usually takes less than five minutes and includes a brief restraint while plastic flipper tags are applied in the webbing of the rear flippers. Her tags read K42 and K43, making her official ID RK42. The R indicates that she is part of the Main Hawaiian Island population and the K indicates she was born in 2018, and finally the 42 is her unique ID. During the tagging process her length and girth were also measured, a microchip was injected under her skin, and she was given her first vaccination against a virus in the measles family known as morbillivirus, also known as distemper in other species. You can learn more about this virus and the monk seal vaccination program here.

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As previously reported, RK42 became entangled in hook and line fishing gear on July 28th, which left a large fish hook in her mouth. The Kauai team quickly responded and captured her on the beach and removed the hook. The hook was a rather large barbed J-hook that was somewhat difficult to remove, primarily due to the sharp barb which caused some tissue damage in her mouth and mild bleeding. She spent the rest of that day resting normally at Maha’ulepu, but has not been seen since.

It is not uncommon for young seals to find a quiet out of the way places to haul-out, so we hope that is the case. In fact, it’s happened before. In June 2009, R5AY gave birth on a North Shore Kaua`i​ beach to a female pup who was eventually tagged RA20. After weaning, as RA20 started to explore, she all but disappeared. Time between sightings would stretch into months and years. Then, surprising everyone, she started popping up on Maui and Hawai`i Island beaches. In 2017, she gave birth to her first pup. Unfortunately, the pup did not survive. However, earlier this year, RA20 gave birth to a second, healthy pup.

As with most wildlife, surviving to adulthood is not easy. First year survival rates for monk seals in the Main Hawaiian islands is approximately 80%. The hooking was a very minor so we have little reason to believe it caused her longer term problems, but again young monk seals face many threats, both anthropogenic and natural. However, we are optimistic we will see her hauled out somewhere sometime soon in good health.

This is a good reminder to report all monk seal sightings on Kaua`i by calling our hotline–808-651-7668.

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During the week of May 14, 2018, three Hawaiian monk seals were found dead on O`ahu. One was RK60 (Nani) who was born on an islet off Oahu known as Rabbit Island in 2011. She’d given birth to one pup in May of 2017.

The second dead seal was RT10 (Ua Malie) who was born at Turtle Bay to R5AY (known as Honey Girl on Oahu and K01 on Kauai). She’d pupped three times before.

The third dead seal was a small but fully developed pup. NOAA officials feel this pup was born dead and, based on an examination, likely to RT10.

The Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program responded by conducting necropsies on all three and today released the news that the cause of death for all three was toxoplasmosis.

In 2015, Kaua`i-born RB24 (Haupu) died of toxoplasmosis.

B24 scars L head

According to a joint statement from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources and Hawaii Department of Health, “The recent deaths of of three critically endangered Hawaiian monk seals on Oahu due to toxoplasmosis is very sad and could have been entirely preventable.”

The rest of the press release reads:

Cats are the only known reproductive host of the toxoplasmosis parasite. It reproduces in the feline digestive system. A single cat can excrete 145 billion eggs per year in its feces. Once released into the environment, these eggs can infect other animals, including humans, both on land and in the ocean. Toxoplasmosis parasites create cysts in muscle and organ tissues and can cause inflammation of the heart, liver, and brain.

Health Director Dr. Bruce Anderson explained that the parasite that NOAA veterinarians found caused the deaths of the seals is far more impactful than just killing seals.” In addition to impacting marine mammals and wildlife, toxoplasmosis is a risk to humans. It is known to cause serious problems for pregnant women and their unborn children,” Anderson said. “During pregnancy, infection by the toxoplasmosis parasite can damage the unborn child, causing miscarriages, stillbirth, or substantial birth defects including enlargement or smallness of the head.

For healthy individuals, symptoms and signs of toxoplasmosis infection are most often benign because a healthy person’s immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness. Very few people will have symptoms similar to the flu and most people probably do not know they have been infected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 10 percent of the population in the U.S. six years of age and older have developed antibodies to the parasite from a past infection. However, for those with compromised immune systems, those undergoing chemotherapy or with AIDS, and for pregnant women the disease can be very serious.

“The only thing certain about toxoplasmosis is that there are far more cases in humans and more deaths in seals, dolphins, native birds and other animals today than are recognized and reported,” said Anderson. “Since cats are the only animal that transmit the disease, it only makes sense that reducing the number of feral cats will reduce the risk of infection and serious illness or death,” Anderson added.

DLNR Chair Suzanne Case, is again encouraging people not to feed cats and other animals near water. “In addition to preying on native wildlife, cats pose a significant health risk to people, marine wildlife and birds,” Case explained. Toxoplasmosis can also infect Hawai‘i’s native birds, including the nēnē and the newly released Hawaiian crow, the ʻAlalā.

“Feeding cats near water obviously increases the risk of transmission but, given the nature of the watersheds in Hawai‘i, cats almost anywhere are probably contributing to the problem,” Case said. “The cysts can live for months in soil and can wash into streams and runoff and be carried into the ocean from almost anywhere. Feeding cats at state parks, boat harbors and other coastal areas increases the risk of transmission because the cysts don’t need to travel very far to get into the ocean.” Case added, “Frankly, feeding cats anywhere where their feces can ultimately wash into the ocean is a problem.”

One of the seals, RK60, killed by toxoplasmosis gave birth to a pup on Moku Iki off shore from Lanikai in the spring of 2017. This seal and her pup moved to Moku Nui and were featured in a safe wildlife viewing video produced by DLNR and shown over the past year to thousands of people who rent from Kailua kayak rental firms (see video link below).

In Hawai‘i, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has recorded at least eleven Hawaiian monk seal deaths that are attributable to toxoplasmosis infection since the first confirmed deaths in 2001. Spinner dolphins are the only other marine species that have been documented as dying from toxoplasmosis in Hawai‘i, but there are many other marine mammal species around the world that have also been affected and infections have been linked to the marine food web. This, according to Case and Anderson, should be enough to prompt people to stop feeding feral cats near any bodies of water.

“With only an estimated 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals still in existence, we simply cannot afford to lose even one of these critically endangered mammals to a disease that is preventable. We hope people will provide as much love to our few very special seals as they do to the hundreds of thousands of feral cats around our islands,” Case said.

Multiple tests were conducted on each seal, all of which pointed to toxoplasmosis as cause of death in each case. Toxoplasmosis causes inflammation and disrupts organ function of the blubber, brain, heart, lung, uterus, and for the pup, placenta. Eventually, this led to multiple organ failure and death.

The total number of known monk seal mortalities due to toxoplasmosis is now 11. Toxoplasmosis is the leading cause of disease-related mortality in Hawaiian monk seals and a growing concern for the recovery of the species.

Alongside the growing threat of toxo is the emerging trend whereby more female seals are disproportionately affected–three males and eight females. This exacerbates the impact on the entire species, as each female lost means all her potential future offspring are lost as well.

Toxoplasmosis is caused by a microscopic protozoan parasite, Toxoplasma gondii. It enters the environment when its eggs are shed through the feces of cats. Billions of eggs can be dispersed into the environment from just one cat over a two week period of infection. The eggs remain alive and infectious for months to years after they leave the cat, where they can infect birds and mammals. The disease is responsible for killing native birds like the `alala and nēnē in the terrestrial environment. The organisms can also be washed downstream by rainfall and flow into the nearshore environment, where they infect monk seals as well as spinner dolphins. Because this is a mauka to makai problem, cats that roam and defecate outdoors in any part of the island ecosystem can become carriers and spreaders of toxoplasmosis and ultimately cause the death of native wildlife.

Seals that are sick from toxoplasmosis may not show obvious warning signs of illness, but some have shown subtle indications such as floating lethargically close to shore in areas with calm, protected waters in the past.

A more concerted effort to mitigate the risk of toxoplasmosis to endangered Hawaiian monk seals, as well as other wildlife species, is urgently needed. This primarily requires dealing with the source of environmental contamination: Hawaii has a large population of cats, including hundreds of thousands of feral cats,, that are allowed to freely roam and defecate outside. Infected cats typically do not show any signs of disease themselves. There is currently no vaccine against Toxoplasma gondii in cats. To diminish the threat of toxoplasmosis to seals, the input of organisms into the environment must be reduced, necessitating a significant reduction in the number of feral cats on the islands. Spaying and neutering cats does not change their capacity to perpetuate the parasite and spread it into the environment.

Cats that are kept exclusively indoors have a much lower chance of completing the T. gondii life cycle and are therefore highly unlikely to shed infective oocysts into the environment. Preventing abandonment and keepings cats indoors is best for the welfare of all animals – cats, native birds, monk seals and dolphins.

To learn more about toxoplasmosis, see our post from late March, entitled Toxo Talk.

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Monk Seal Monday #13: RA20

In June 2009, an extra large R5AY gave birth to a chunky female pup on a shallow stretch of sand along a rocky shoreline on Kauai’s north shore. It was mid-day and almost high tide. As tide ebbed and flowed, the placenta, still attached to the pup, kept getting pulled from between the rocks and offshore. Luckily, the assembly of rocks prevented the hours-old pup from getting dragged into open water. Once the tide turned, the little pup was able to stay on dry sand, and eventually her umbilicus released and her placenta fell off. Some weeks later, once the pup weaned, she was tagged RA20–and hardly ever seen again. Because of her healthy size, she was nicknamed “Momona,” which translates from Hawaiian to something like, “very large.”

One year to the day of her birth, a sighting of RA20 was reported to the Kauai HMS Hui hotline. In 2011, she was reported on the east side and south shore on several occasions. Then, she all but disappeared from Kauai. Over the years, periodic sightings placed her on Maui and Hawaii Island.

In 2017, word traveled down the Hawaiian Island chain that RA20 had given birth on Hawaii Island. Unfortunately, three days later, the pup was found dead and floating in a tide pool. A necropsy was performed and a histopathology report supported drowning as the ultimate cause of death. However, other tests showed some abnormalities that may have led to a weakness in the pup and predisposed it to death from drowning and/or trauma. Even with milk found in the stomach, there was evidence of poor nutrition (declining blubber cells, fatty liver) as well as a possible infection in the liver (necrotic cells) and belly button, all consistent in a poorly thriving pup.

But that brings us to 2018.

On February 8, RA20 gave birth to her second pup, boosting the Hawaii Island monk seal population to five resident seals. Reports are that mom and pup are doing well. DOCARE and state park officials have been super supportive and helping that island’s monk seal response coordinator, a member of Ke Kai Ola/The Marine Mammal Center.

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And, so, kicks off the 2018 pupping season. We’ve got more news on that front to come. Meanwhile, enjoy this unusual video submitted by one of our many loyal volunteers. It shows visible stomach movement of Kauai’s resident RK13. Could she be pregnant?

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The first main Hawaiian Island pup for 2015 was born last week to R5AY on Oahu. She’s a Kauai and Oahu seal, but mostly an Oahu seal these days. You may remember R5AY suffered from a severely hooked tongue in 2013 that required surgical removal of a portion of it. Here’s a snapshot of her life:
Background: Tagged in 2002 as an adult on Kauai – so currently at least 18 years old (assuming 5 yrs old when first seen – min age of sexual maturity)

Has mostly spent her time since between Kauai and Oahu

Pupping History

2005 – Kauai  RI37 (female)

2006 – Oahu  (female)

2008 – Oahu  (male)

2009 – Kauai  RA20 (female)

2010 – Oahu  (female)

2011 – Oahu  (female)

2012 – Oahu  (female)

2014 – Oahu (female)

2015 – Oahu. Born February 25th. Sex unknown (so far)

Interesting facts/incidents with her other pups:

– Two females died from entangling in gillnets in the Bellows/Waimanalo area on Oahu.

– RI37 has some large scars on her back – potentially from a propeller. Possibly because of the scars or other related internal injuries, she has had a history of miscarriages/abortions and stillborn pups. As of now, she has not yet had a live birth.

Hooking/Entanglement Summary for R5AY

– First reports from kite surfers near Malaekahana State Recreation Area of a seal floating entangled/dead.

– 14 November 2012 – Report of R5AY with hook in cheek on land. Covered in algae. Severely emaciated.

– 17 November – Captured at Sunset Beach by NMFS Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) staff. Brought to Waikiki Aquarium.

– 19 November – Surgery at Honolulu Zoo w/Drs. Gregg Levine, Michelle Barbieri, and Miles Yoshioka (soft tissue surgeon). Removed ~2/3rds of her tongue

– Recovery at Waikiki Aquarium. Progressed from eating dead fish to capturing live fish in pool.

– 29 November – Released near Turtle Bay. Was fitted with satellite transmitter to track movements.

– Continued surveys by volunteers after release to track location and body condition.

– 12 December – Captured by PIFSC staff to give antibiotics, take blood sample, assess body condition. Appeared to be continuing recovery.

– Mid-January 2013 – Satellite tag stopped transmitting or fell off.

– Mid-February – Molted her fur

Other interesting info regarding monk seal reproduction:

– Gestation length of monk seals is unknown. Period between pup birth dates is ~381 days (on average). After 6 weeks of nursing, females are usually seen ~19 days later with scratches & injuries that imply mating. So the assumption is that gestation is somewhere around 10-11 months. But other seals have delayed implantation – so who knows?

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Pup-watch has ended for RT12!  He has still been sighted frequently at Larsen’s beach, but has also left the area for several days at a time.  Keep your eyes peeled for this little roly-poly – he’s still vulnerable to learning the wrong way to coexist with people on the beach!!

The “unidentified” adult male seal fitted with a cell-phone tag last month turns out to be RO18, a known seal who often travels back and forth between Kauai and Oahu.  He went straight back to Oahu after being tagged on Kauai, but returned to Kauai for most of July and spent his time here with adult female RK13.  Previously thought to be pregnant, RK13 is now showing appearance and behavior cues indicating otherwise.

Adult female 5AY, previously expected to pup on Kauai this summer, had a pup on Oahu instead!  We may not have any more Kauai newborns until winter!

Mahalo-eha (RA36) has still been hanging out on the east shore, and one day this month decided to haul out right onto the Fuji Beach boat ramp!  This is not a safe place for a seal to rest!  Mahalo-eha is still in the impressionable life stage during which he could either learn to be a wild seal, or to be a human-friendly seal.   If he learns that it is a positive thing to approach humans, then he will be attracted to his own greatest threats:  boats, propellers, hooks, nets, and people who don’t realize how special monk seals are. Dr. Mimi Olry used special equipment and aversive conditioning techniques to discourage him from resting on the boat ramp, for his and the public’s safety.  Please note that changing the behavior of a Hawaiian monk seal is against state and federal law without the proper permits, which Dr. Olry has.

Pohaku (RO28) has been spending quite a bit of time on the island at Poipu Beach Park – every day for the past 2 weeks!  She may be getting ready to molt, or she may just be repeating her typical behavior of finding and sticking to a favorite resting spot!

The PIFSC monk seal research team visited Kauai this month, hoping to fit more seals with cell-phone tags to study their movements and dive behavior.  The criteria for this procedure are pretty strict:  the seal must be hauled out in a sandy spot safe for restraint. It must be restrained during the cooler parts of the day.   The seal cannot be too young, too small, pregnant, nursing, molting, near-molting, or otherwise already stressed.  These criteria are all for the seals’ health and safety.  Our team encountered quite a few seals on this trip, but unfortunately only one fit all the criteria: adult male RK02.  Even more unfortunately for the team, RK02 is a clever seal who eluded the researchers not once but TWICE!  He made a run for the water both times.   Better luck next time, PIFSC!

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T12 wakes up from a nap just long enough to scratch his face.

Our first Kauai pup of the year, male RT12, is weaned, tagged, chubby, healthy, and exploring.  He has found some companionship in adult male RK02; they are often hauled out on the beach together.

T12 shows off his new bling.

Our second pup is also weaned and healthy.  He is also a confirmed male!  This little boy was too busy playing in the water to get tagged at our last attempt, so keep your eyes out for a relatively short and fat untagged pup!  We would love another opportunity to tag him before he grows up and begins to look like so many other young seals around the island!

‘Tis the season for more pups, too!  Females RK13, Temp 365, R5AY, and large unidentified female with a distinctive white “chin” area are all likely pregnant and pupping this summer!

Momona (RA20) and Noho (RA16) both celebrated their first birthdays this month, and both seals were spotted on their respective birthdays!  It’s wonderful to see these kids growing up healthy!!

Mahalo-eha (RA36), our 7-month-old Maha’ulepu pup, has been hanging out along the east shore these days, often seen at Nukoli’i and Fuji Beaches.

One unidentified adult male seal was fitted with a cell-phone tag by the NOAA PIFSC team on June 9, 2010.  The tag records GPS data and depth to help us understand the seals’ movement and foraging behavior. The seal also now has flipper tags 6FA/6FB, and his tag tells us that he headed straight for Oahu after receiving his tag.

RO28 has received her Hawaiian name: she is “Pohaku“, which means “rock.”  Pohaku frequently hauls out in the rocky areas around Poipu.  She is also a “rock” for our monk seal population – a healthy female, and daughter of RK06, another beloved strong female seal.

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