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Archive for the ‘R8HE’ Category

Monk Seal Monday (on Tuesday) #38

Maui recently reported the 30th pup born in the Main Hawaiian Islands this year. Thirty pups in one year is a record for the Main Hawaiian Islands, besting the previous high mark by a whopping nine pups. Turns out, the mom, R8HE, was flipper-tagged on Kauai as a juvenile. She’s estimated to be approximately six years old. This is her first known pup.

However, last year this time, we reported:

R8HE was a juvenile when flipper-tagged here in 2014, but she’s been regularly sighted around O‘ahu and reported as far away as Hawai‘i Island. Earlier this year, she appeared pregnant but then wasn’t seen for a couple months. She popped back up looking very thin, making HMSRP suspect she’d pupped in a remote place somewhere. (This happens even in the Main Hawaiian Islands.)

This kind of movement up and down the Hawaiian Island chain isn’t unusual. Some seals do like to journey long distances while others seem to stick to a few favorite haunts.

You may recall another voyager, R8HD, who seems to be making a tour of the Main Hawaiian Islands. He was sighted on Kauai, Oahu, and Molokai this summer. R8HD’s home place made national news recently when a hurricane roared through French Frigate Shoals. Various headlines reported one of the islands in the atoll was “wiped out,” “disappeared,” or “vanished” after taking a direct hit from Hurricane Walaka in early October. They were referring to East Island, an important pupping spot for Hawaiian monk seals and nesting site for Green sea turtles.

Screen Shot 2018-11-13 at 6.42.23 PM

Photo credit: Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument/NOAA.

East Island wasn’t large by island standards in the Main Hawaiian Islands, measuring some half-mile in length and 400-feet wide before the hurricane. Now, not much remains. However, as ocean currents move sand around, there’s a chance some of the “island” will return.

The submergence of East Island wasn’t unexpected. But it was sudden, taking climate scientists by surprise. With the intensity and frequency of tropical storms and hurricanes expected to increase due to climate change, this is one way climate change is directly affecting Hawaiian monk seals today. There’s likely to be more storms like Walaka charging through the Hawaiian archipelago. And there are dozens more islands and islets the size of East Island–and smaller–on which Hawaii’s native wildlife depend for survival. In addition to entanglements with marine debris, competition for food resources, and sharks, now climate change can be added to the list of threats facing Hawaiian monk seals today.

 

 

 

 

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V76(Thomton)There are numerous ways to positively identify a monk seal, including: 1) Natural bleach marks; 2) Scars; 3) Plastic flipper tags; and 4) Applied bleach marks.

To the untrained eye, one monk seal may look just like another. And, sometimes, even those who have been trained and spent hours, days and weeks observing monk seals confuse one monk seal for another. That’s because not all seals are flipper-tagged and even those that are sometimes lose the plastic identification tags attached to their rear flippers due to breakage. Too, a monk seal’s wounds—say from cookie cutter sharks—heal quite quickly, so a once dependable identifying scar can fade. Even the temporary three-digit “bleach marks,” applied by a trained biologist with the aid of your standard, over-the-counter, hair dye (thanks Clairol!) disappears every year when the seal goes through its annual molt.

The ability to identify individual seals is important for the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program to track seals throughout their lifetime to gain information about their movement patterns, survival, reproduction, health, and more.

On Kaua‘i, we regularly see 40 to 50 individual seals that we consider “resident” to the island. While some tend to favor Kaua‘i, we do know many move from island to island throughout the archipelago. Most recently, thanks to these unique ways to identify individual seals, two of those once seen around Kaua‘i have been spotted elsewhere.

R8HE was a juvenile when flipper-tagged here in 2014, but she’s been regularly sighted around O‘ahu and reported as far away as Hawai‘i Island. Earlier this year, she appeared pregnant but then wasn’t seen for a couple months. She popped back up looking very thin, making HMSRP suspect she’d pupped in a remote place somewhere. (This happens even in the Main Hawaiian Islands.)

Too, earlier this year, an adult female started hauling out on the rocks near Brennecke’s Beach in Poipu and was bleach-marked V76. Late last month, she was reported by divers off Hawai‘i Island.

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2014 Year-End Report

Monk Seal Management Summary for Kauai in 2014:

2014 was a busy and promising year for monk seal recovery on Kauai. Below are some of the numbers we tallied based on reports submitted by the public and efforts by volunteers and staff members. (Please note, these are only the numbers for Kauai and don’t represent the larger picture of monk seal recovery in the Hawaiian islands.)

Grand sightings total: 2​,516 monk seal sightings on Kauai in 2014! (6.9 seals per day).
Kauai population: 47 unique individual seals sighted in 2014.

Births:

  • ​5 seal pups born (3 male and 2 female).
  • 3 pregnant females likely pupped on Niihau (departed pregnant, returned thin).

Mortalities: 4 seals died.

  • 2 were 2014 pups (PK5 – dog attack, and RF58 – intentionally killed, investigation is ongoing)
  • ​1 was a ​previously unknown yearling (R4DD​ – cause of death was likely drowning)
  • ​​1 ​was a ​juvenile from 2012 cohort (RL17 ​ – cause of death unknown).​
New Seals: we sighted 11 new seals in 2014, likely from Niihau.

  • 4 were flipper tagged​​ (R4DD, R8HE, R8HP, R1KY).
  • ​1 was captured for ​surgical removal of an injured eye (R1KU)​ and eventually released on Niihau​.
  • ​3 were ​bleach marked for temporary identification.
hawaiian monk seal, RF30

Photo credit: M. Miyashiro

The largest and strongest pup of the year is female RF30. Based on her excellent body condition, it is obvious that she quickly learned to forage on her own after weaning.  She was routinely sighted during the final few months of 2014 along the east side of Kauai.

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