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Archive for the ‘RB24/Haupu’ Category

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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We are saddened to report that RB24 has passed away.

RB24 had been a seal of concern that PIRO and PIFSC had been closely monitoring for the last few months. She was one of the four seals brought into temporary captivity during a tugboat oil spill in January. In early March, she miscarried her second pregnancy. During the last few months, RB24 had frequently been reported logging in the waters off Ko`olina on O`ahu. After close observation, she was eventually brought into captivity for assessment and rehabilitation. Shortly thereafter, she passed away. A necropsy was immediately performed.

Results of the necropsy were released this week.

It appears that mortality was caused by Toxoplasma gondii (see below) infection that affected the brain, lungs, fat, heart and other organs. The Toxoplasma parasites were widespread throughout her body, but where most severe, they led to inflammation in the brain and severe tissue degradation in the blubber and internal fat stores. The inflammation seen within the blubber was likely quite painful and explains why RB24 had such a reluctance to haul out or move around. The infection in the lungs led to a series of inflammatory processes that made it difficult for RB24 to distribute oxygen to her tissues, including those of her unborn pup. That lack of oxygen, in addition to the placental damage caused by Toxoplasma, explain why she aborted the fetus. Ultimately, RB24 died of respiratory failure because of the inflammation caused by the parasites in the lung. There is little chance that a Toxoplasma infection of this severity would have been treatable.

RB24 was born to RK12 at Maha’ulepu on Kauai in 2007, the first of several pups RK12 was to have at Maha’ulepu under the shadow of the famous mountain, Ha’upu. As a pup RB24 survived a dog attack that left scars on the left side of her face. She spent much of her sub-adult years on the east side of Kauai, especially at Lae Nani one of her favorite places to rest. As an adult she moved to Oahu, occasionally returning to Kauai to molt or just to visit.

 

 

Hawaiian monk seal

RB24. Photo credit: Mary Miyashiro

Hawaiian monk seal known as B24 with satellite tag

B24. Photo credit: Mary Miyashiro.

B24 scars L head

 

 toxo p1toxo p2

 

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Photo credit: Mary Miyashiro

RK54 (juvenile male, flipper tag K54) showed continued facial swelling at the beginning of February, and DLNR staff was able to give him antibiotics on 2/11. He was not observed at all for some time after his injection, but has now been observed several times.  The swelling is still apparent, but much reduced. Photos are still critical to further health assessment, so please keep them coming!

RB24 (young adult female, flipper tags B24/B25) was 100% molted as of 2/24.

RK22 (RK54’s mom, flipper tags 6FD/6FH) has recently reappeared on Kauai in the Larsen’s area!  Perhaps she has returned to grace us with another pup in a few months!

Photo credit: Tree Cloud

RK30 (adult female with prominent entanglement scars) was observed “logging” (resting at the surface of the water) all day near the rocks at Ahukini Landing on 2/17.  This is somewhat unusual behavior, but RK30 has since been sighted several times, looking healthy and likely pregnant!

I am sorry to report that juvenile male seal RK56 (born to RK30 at Miloli’I, 5/12/11) was found dead at Maha’uelpu Beach on 3/5, amidst stormy, flash-flood conditions.  RK56 was recovered by DoCARE and NOAA staff, and shipped to Oahu that night for necropsy the next morning.

RK56 spent a lot of time during the past 3 months at Kalapaki Bay, near a local hangout called Pine Trees.  The uncles that picnic, drink and eat there every day took quite a liking to RK56, and became endearingly protective of him.   RK56 is also the little guy who was getting too curious around humans on the north shore in November 2011. We posted flyers about him, and filled out special observation logs to monitor his behavior.  I gave a presentation about him to the Hanalei to Haena Community Association.  Our north and east shore volunteers spent a LOT of hours intensively monitoring this seal.  On behalf of RK56, we thank the whole island of Kauai for the special care you showed to this little seal.  RK56 will be cremated, and his ashes returned to the ocean.

Adult male seals RV18 and RK31 are both freshly molted!

RT12 (juvenile male) was deliberately disturbed recently at Glass Beach by a man who pulled on his rear flippers. Thanks to the volunteer on-scene for the detailed incident report, which has been passed on to law enforcement.

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Hawaiian monk seal RK13

Photo credit: Michele Bane

We have had several reports of seals swimming up into canals on the east shore over the past few weeks.  In particular, RK13 has been observed “logging” 
(resting at the surface of the water) in a canal near the Kapa’a Library.  Both 
freshwater activity (and the health hazards presented therein) and logging 
are behaviors of concern for Hawaiian monk seals.  Please be sure to report 
both immediately, so that our staff can respond and observe the behavior(s) 
in person.

RK13 is of special concern, and we are monitoring her very closely.  She 
has two new injuries (first observed 12/7), consistent with shark bites.  One is near her left 
foreflipper, which she did not appear to be using for the first couple of weeks.  The other is on the underside of her 
right side.   Neither wound is life-threatening, they are not very deep, 
and both are showing quite a bit of healing progress.   She began hauling out on sand again in Kapaa town on 
12/11, but has also continued to visit canals.  She rests peacefully in the Kapaa Library canal, but had a rough day in the canal near the Bull Shed 
restaurant on 12/13.  The canal was a couple of feet deep when she entered 
it early in the day, but by afternoon it was down to a few inches of water. 
RK13 galumphed all the way up the canal behind the Safeway shopping center, 
and struggled to get out of the sludgy mud.  It was awful to watch, but 
handling her would have been more stressful and likely less successful than 
letting her work her way through.  She did figure it out, and worked her way slowly (lots of rest breaks!) back to the ocean.  Since then, she has 
hauled out on sand in Kapaa, Anahola and Moloaa, and also spent a few 
more days in the Kapaa Library Canal.  She is using her left foreflipper normally 
again, starting on Christmas Eve!  Thanks for that holiday gift, RK13!

RK30 (adult female, entanglement scar around neck and large scar on side), 
interestingly enough, was observed in two different Kapaa canals on 
12/29.  Careful 
not to get these two ladies confused!

Hawaiian monk seal RK56

Photo credit: Michele Bane

Another two seals who have flipped the switch on us are RK56 (weaner male, exhibiting curiosity toward humans in November) and RK52 (weaner female, 
born at Larsen’s, April 2011)!  RK56 was most recently seen today at Nukoli’i on the east shore, and RK52 has been observed twice in 
Hanalei.  Careful not to assume identity on these little seals – they’re on the move!  RK52 
has been hauling up very high and looking for trouble; last week she hauled out under a plastic chair, and the next day under a wire fence!  Thankfully, 
she was not entangled.

RB24 (subadult female who lost weight earlier this year) continues to look improved!  Her body condition is back to normal.

R313 (adult female, formerly Temp V23) received a new “V23” bleach mark 
while PIFSC’s Mark Sullivan was on island visiting.  Thanks, Mark!   R313 has been observed from Larsen’s to Ke’e.

At sunset on Christmas Eve, we received a report of a seal entangled in a net in the rocks behind the Beach House restaurant in Lawai.   The entanglement
turned out to be a false alarm; the juvenile tagged seal was just investigating the lay-gillnet in the water.   DoCARE reports that any net is illegal if it is either (1) left unattended, or (2) still set after sunset.  This net was both, so law enforcement is working to identify the net and remove it.

On 12/28, at sunset again, we had another report of a lay-gillnet set about 50 yards down the beach from a hauled-out seal, this time at Ke’e 
Beach.  One of our volunteers was present and spoke with the fishers, but they left the net in place.  Luckily, R313 (adult female bleached V23) did not get entangled. 
We saw her hauled out nearby the next day.

Hawaiian monk seal A20

Photo credit: M. Miyashiro

RA20 (juvenile female born at Larsen’s in 2009, a.k.a. “Momona”, rarely 
seen) has been observed on the south and east shores recently!  She is 
clearly not accustomed to being near humans; she is very sensitive, and was disturbed off of the Courtyard Marriott beach twice yesterday by beachgoers walking past her too closely.

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Hawaiian monk seal known as B24 sporting telemetry tag

B24. Photo credit: Mary Miyashiro.

Four-year-old female RB24 is showing marked improvement!  She was given an antibiotic injection on August 4, and her gradual weight-gain was almost immediately apparent.  It is unclear whether the de-worming, the antibiotics, or a natural recovery from her sudden decline is to credit for her improvement; but regardless, it’s a relief to see it!

Weaned seal RK56 (born in May to mom RK30) has been regularly seen between Ke’e and Ha’ena Beach Parks.  He finally made the trek from his natal beach, Miloli’i on the Napali Coast!  The two weaned seals born in April have also left their birthplace to explore nearby Aliomanu and Anahola.

Freshly molted Hawaiian monk seal known as K30.

K30. Photo credit: Mary Miyashiro.

Two of our 2011 mother seals, RK22 and RK30, successfully molted in August.  Hawaiian monk seals go through a “catastrophic molt” once per year, losing their entire outer layer of fur and skin.  This is a physically stressful time for the seals, and they often stay on the beach for up to a week during their molt.   Female seals molt as part of their reproductive cycle.  After weaning a pup, they “super-forage” to fatten back up, and then molt before mating and carrying the next year’s pup.

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Field Report: July 2011

Hawaiian monk seal

RB24. Photo credit: Mary Miyashiro

Sub-adult female RB24 continues to be of concern.  Her condition has neither visibly improved nor worsened.  On July 13, PIFSC scientists returned to Kauai to get a full suite of biomedical samples from her, and to change out her larger cell phone tag for a smaller satellite tag.  She was also given a de-worming medication to help maximize her nutrition intake by lessening her parasite load.  Great work by our east-side volunteer team, who collected a fecal sample from her the following week – this will allow us to see if the medication is working!

Hawaiian monk seal

W02. Credit: Mary Miyashiro.

The same day, three-year old male RW02received a cell phone tag, so

that we can track his movements and dive behavior to better understand his habitat use.

Hawaiian monk seal

R315. Photo credit: Michele Bane

Adult female R315 (formerly known as Temp 365, mother of RA16) has been seen at least twice recently, looking very pregnant!  Since she did not pup last year, her due date is anyone’s guess.  She has been spotted on the northeast shore, and previously pupped at Larsen’s, so we may very well be looking forward to another pup event there!

A new unknown subadult female seal was spotted in the Anahola area earlier this week with a mysterious mark on her belly.  We would very much like to lay eyes on this seal again, in person, to determine whether this is a natural mark, an injury, or a foreign body.  If you see her, please photograph and report her to our hotline (808-651-7668) right away, so that we can come to the site to observe her.

Hawaiian monk seal

Photo credit: Lloyd Miyashiro.

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Happy Summer from the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui!

Hawaiian monk seal and marine debris

Photo credit: Mary Werthwine

On June 13, juvenile male seal RA36 was reported with a decaying water bottle stuck to his face!  Luckily, the bottle was open at both ends, so RA36 could breathe, but he could not eat or use his whiskers.  Our team mobilized immediately to try to remove the bottle, and RA36 ended up dislodging it himself by knocking his head on our rescue equipment and causing the bottle to pop off!

June brought the PIFSC Monk Seal Research team to Kauai!  Their goals were to apply flipper tags to our newly weaned pups, to apply cell phone tags to more seals, and to conduct health assessments on a couple seals of concern.  They succeeded on all fronts!

Hawaiian monk seal on the beach

Photo credit: Lloyd Miyashiro

Our first 2011 Kauai pup’s new permanent ID number is RK54.  His brand-new tags read K54 and K55.  The second pup is female RK52, with tags reading K52 and K53.  RK52 is plumper than RK54, and is seen here exploring her own Seal Protection Zone!  When the weaned pups received their tags, they were also measured and given pit tags (like your pets’ microchips.)

Adult male RK36, with flipper tags 4DI/4DJ, was fitted with a cell phone tag.   We use the cell phone tags to monitor habitat use, dives and foraging behavior!

The PIFSC team got to take a good look at our aging male seal TT40.  While his advanced age seems to be causing his body’s normal processes (like molting) to slow down, our vets and scientists agree that he looks great for his age.

We also assessed the health of subadult female RB24, who has been observed to be losing body condition (i.e., getting thinner).  The cause of her weight loss has not yet been determined, but results of her blood samples, tissue samples and de-worming medication should help us learn more.

At the end of June, we rode out to Miloli’i to flipper-tag our third Kauai pup of the year.  This little male’s permanent number is RK56, and his tags say K56 and K57.  Special thanks to PIFSC and DLNR’s Department of Boating and Ocean Recreation for making this tagging trip possible!

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