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Archive for the ‘RH58’ Category

Monk Seal Monday #48: New Pup!

When it comes to Hawaiian monk seal pups, the bigger, the better. A monk seal pup’s size is directly related to his mom. The bigger the mom when she pups, the longer her fat stores will hold out and the longer she’ll nurse before weaning her young one. A “weaner” with a hefty layer of blubber will have more time to figure out what to eat and where to find it. 

That said, Kauai’s first pup (PK1) of the year, a male, has a good chance of becoming a super size weaner.

When RB00 rolled out of the surf in early February and landed on a remote Kauai beach, she was approaching ocean-liner status. If she were a heavy duty truck, she would have been labeled as a wide load. RB00’s anticipated due date was January 20th, but she didn’t pup until Feb. 4, giving her a couple extra weeks to pack on the pounds. And pack on the pounds, she did.

Wide load RB00 hapai

Photo credit: G. Langley

RB00 pupped on a remote beach on Lanai in 2018. She nursed for a whopping six-and-a-half weeks. This year, RB00 surprised us by pupping on Kauai—on the very same beach on which she was born in 2007. RB00 possesses legendary DNA—her mother is RH58, also known as Rocky, who gained international fame when she gave birth on Waikiki Beach in 2017. For a detailed review of RB00’s life, read this post from last year.

PK1 marked his third week of life today, having survived the major windstorm and monster surf of two weeks ago. Here’s a recap in photos of his life thus far.

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Photo credit: G. Langley

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Photo credit: G. Langley

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Photo credit: G. Langley

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Monk Seal Monday #47: RK58 Returns

The fishy smell of seal slammed against the nostrils to reveal the true contents of an ordinary dog kennel positioned in the back of a government truck. Only, there wasn’t any ordinary dog inside. Young RK58 was returning to Kaua‘i from six months of rehabilitation on Hawai‘i Island after a series of misadventures on his birth beach led his mother—RH58, the ordinarily perfect role model of a doting mother—to reject him.

Seal hierarchy is complicated.

RK58 slept peacefully, if smell-ily, on his flight from Hawai‘i Island to Kaua‘i and also during the hour-long drive through traffic to reach the beach where a temporary resting spot awaited him.

A circular “shore pen” was made of connecting fence panels. Inside, a tub for water was buried up to its sides in the sand. A log—about the same size as a six-month-old monk seal—was placed inside for RK58 to snuggle against when sleeping. Also, numerous drift wood sticks were scattered about to provide enrichment for the curious young monk seal. This setup would give RK58 time to transition from captive seal to wild seal.

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Photo credit: Gary Langley

When the dog kennel was opened, RK58 wasted no time in galumphing forward into his shore pen where he’d stay for a couple nights, as is protocol for young Hawaiian monk seals returning to the wild after an extended stay in rehabilitation at Ke Kai Ola, the Monk Seal Hospital, in Kona.

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Photo credit: Gary Langley

RK58 went immediately for the water tub. Over the next two days, he would energetically flop around in it until the tub would eventually crack and break. But the weather was perfect—cloudy with occasional rain—to keep a monk seal cool.

When he wasn’t in his tub, RK58 circumnavigated his shore pen, investigating his new environment. He tossed sticks in the air, kicked up sand with his fore-flippers, and napped alongside the log. In other words, he exhibited hallmark characteristics for a monk seal of his age.

At one point, a telemetry tag was adhered to RK58’s back. This will report back to NOAA his whereabouts. (Eventually, the tag will fall off.) Also, two red identification tags were attached to RK58’s rear flippers. The left reads RK58 and the right RK59. If these ever break and fall off, RK58 will still be identifiable by a microchip PIT tag (much like the kind inserted subcutaneously on dogs and cats) that was slipped under his skin. There’s actually a natural way to identify RK58. He sports a natural bleach mark on the tips of his right fore flipper—much like his mother does, too.

Monk seals are often further identified with a number bleached into their fur. However, no combination of dry seal and sleeping seal presented itself during RK58’s acclimatization period, so he has not yet been bleach-marked.

After two nights in his shore-pen, Dr. Claire Simeone, veterinarian and director of Ke Kai Ola, declared RK58 fit for re-release into the wild.

When RK58’s shore pen was opened, he wasted no time exiting, heading straight for the water.

But when he got washed in the shore break, he paused.

RK58 Release Kim Steutermann Rogers-3

Instead of diving in, RK58 motored down the beach for approximately 100 yards, bypassing an adult female monk seal who happened to be hauled out nearby. A small on-shore break washed his body in salt water a few times, but RK58 did not venture out. It was as if he were investigating his new world. And a big one, at that. Why rush it?

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But then, it all clicked. RK58 started swimming, even foraging, chasing after things under water, coming up with stuff in his mouth. He started duck diving under waves. He was a wild seal once again.

The next few weeks and months are critical for RK58. It may take him a few days to figure out what food he likes to eat, but Ke Kai Ola has prepared him. One condition of his release was that he free-feed—that is, catch his own live prey. He’s successfully noshed on live fish. He’s even used his strong jaws to crack open lobster. The bigger concern for any rehabbed wildlife is that they maintain a healthy wariness of people. The fewer interactions he has with humans, the better. Let’s do what we can to ensure RK58’s survival. Let’s keep him a wild seal.

Here are more reports about RK58 and his return to the wild.

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HMS_RH38_photo (7) by Laura Grote © The Marine Mammal Center_NOAA permit #18786 (1)

RH38 at Ke Kai Ola. Photo credit: L. Grote.

Last summer, when she was then one year old, RH38  started steadily losing weight. In August, she was transported by a US Coast Guard C-130 to Kona where she was examined by the team at Ke Kai Ola. RH38 was born to RK30 in 2016 and nursed for 50 days. She was the first Kauai seal to be treated at the Hawaiian monk seal hospital on Hawaii Island.

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RH38 in July 2017 before her visit to Ke Kai Ola. Photo credit: J. Thomton.

At Ke Kai Ola, it was discovered RH38 was heavily infested with tapeworms. Intestinal parasites are not uncommon in monk seals, and have been documented to inhibit growth and even cause death in young Hawaiian monk seals. After fattening up–from 88 lbs on entrance to 185 lbs at release–RH38 was flown back to Kauai last November. Shortly thereafter, she began the first of her annual molts.

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Since then, RH38 has behaved like a normal wild seal–and that’s good news especially whenever a seal is treated by humans. If a seal habituates to humans, they might start to interact with them in ways that are dangerous for the human as well as the seal.

At two-and-a-half years old, RH38 is regularly seen hauling out up and down the coastline along Kauai’s eastside. And as the buildup of green algae on the pictures below (taken today) indicate, she looks like she’s heading for her second annual molt in the coming months.

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RH38. Photo credit: L. Miyashiro.

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RH38. Photo credit: L. Miyashiro.

Earlier this summer, Kauai’s second seal headed to Ke Kai Ola for rehab. RK58, born to RH58, was not quite three weeks old when he was flown to Hawaii Island. (Read here to learn more about the unusual reason why he was sent to rehab.) RK58 is now learning how to catch live fish and will be returned to Kauai in the coming weeks. As with RH38, it’s absolutely vital that RK58 does not interact with humans upon his return, so he can live a long and wild seal life. We’ll share more about RK58 in the coming weeks.

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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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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.

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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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Here’s the first interaction of RK58 and another pup named Sole at Ke Kai Ola. Sole was born on Molokai and is the older and larger of the two.

Like RK58, Sole was rescued and delivered to Ke Kai Ola–known colloquially as the Monk Seal Hospital–due to another mom-pup switch while nursing. Since 2014, Ke Kai Ola has cared for Hawaiian monk seals–mostly pups and weaners–at their facility at Kailua-Kona on Hawaii Island. Ke Kai Ola was built through a cooperative effort between the Marine Mammal Center and the Hawaii Wildlife Fund.

Also, speaking of RH58, on August 16, she was reported to be back on Oahu where she spends her non-motherhood days.

Meanwhile, back on Kauai, the first female to give birth this year, RK13, is putting on weight after weaning her pup, RK42. As you know, females do not feed during the five to seven weeks they nurse their pups, growing skinnier by the day. Typically, females will go into estrus sometime after weaning. They’ll also go through an annual molt in the weeks and months after weaning; however, RK13 hasn’t molted yet. She has been sighted with male R6FQ on numerous occasions since August 11th.

R6FQ is a seven-year-old male who is easily identified by deep line scars at the base of his left rear flipper, possibly sustained during a propeller strike when he was a juvenile. Prior to hanging around RK13, he was repeatedly sighted during June and half of July with RK90.

RK90 is an adult female who was likely born on Niihau. She popped up on a Kauai Beach as a juvenile in 2013 with a fish hook in her mouth. It was removed and at the same time she was flipper-tagged. Last May, she was also found with a large fish hook sticking out of her mouth. This was her second known hooking. Both hooks were successfully removed on the beach. Late last year, RK90 was sighted on Kauai looking large and very pregnant. Then, she disappeared for six weeks, returning in mid-February looking thin. It’s suspected that she returned to her natal island to give birth, something many, but not all, females do.

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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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