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Archive for the ‘RH92’ Category

Monk Seal Monday #32: Molting

About the first of the month, two-year-old RH92 was reported to have started her annual molt. She joins four other seals known to have molted this year thus far: R1KT, R3CX, RG22, and V2.

lynn-nowatzki

Photo credit: Lynn Nowatzki

Hawaiian monk seals experience what’s called a “catastrophic molt,” meaning the loss of the top layer of skin and fur happens in one concentrated period of time, rather than continually throughout the year. The molting process can take one to two weeks. Because molting requires great energetic resources, during this time, the seal will usually stick pretty close to the beach, often spending the night tucked high up the beach and under bushes.

Molting is a vulnerable time for monk seals, another reason to encourage folks to keep dogs on leashes. Typically, the molt starts on the belly, flippers, muzzle, and scars. Then, moves to the back. The molting pattern isn’t exactly “attractive.” A seal with patches of dead skin falling off can often cause beach-goers concern, thinking the seal is sick or, even, dead.

Adult females will often molt soon after they wean their pups. Also, any seals outfitted with a telemetry tag near its molt will lose it during the molt. (If you happen upon a telemetry tag on the beach–it’s a rare event but it has happened–please call the monk seal hotline to report it.)

T21M.Donna Lee

Photo credit: D. Lee

Basically, seals molt, because their coat gets dirty. After spending long bouts of time at sea, algae will often grow on their fur. If you see a seemingly green-colored seal, you’ll know he or she is nearing his/her molt.

After molting, monk seals regain their dark gray to brown color on their dorsal (back) side and a light gray to yellowish brown color on their under (ventral) side. This difference in coloration is known as “countershading.” From below, the seal’s light belly blends in with the sunny surface of the ocean. From above, the seal’s darker back is closer in color to the dark ocean floor. This serves as camouflage for seals. It helps them sneak up on prey, as well as, hide from sharks and other predators.

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face_seal_J36_male_12DEC17_DLOn July 19, 2017, our second pup of the year was tagged RJ36 (born to RK30) at his natal birth site along a stretch of Napali Coast. But he wasn’t officially re-sighted again until late in the afternoon last week Tuesday when a field biologist at Pacific Missile Range Facility reported two seals had hauled out along Kauai’s southwestern shore. One was R8HY and the other turned out to be RJ36. The field biologist observed some unusual scars just forward of the weaner’s left fore flipper and across his dorsal above his rear flippers.

tail_seal_J36_male_12DEC17_DLAfter reviewing photos of RJ36 with the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program (HMSRP), the consensus is RJ36 had an encounter with a shark. The good news is RJ36 appears to be in good health. His wounds have healed, and he’s looking nice and plump.

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In the Main Hawaiian Islands, HMSRP does not rank sharks as a major threat to monk seal survival. According to HMSRP, there have been no documented cases of mortality from sharks in the Main Hawaiian Islands. However, that doesn’t mean they haven’t happened, as those events probably go completely undetected.

RJ36 isn’t Kauai’s only known seal with suspected shark encounters.

There’s also RJ36’s mom, RK30, who was first sighted as an adult by the HMSRP in 2005, already with what’s possibly a scar from a shark bite. She also has a dozen or more cookie cutter shark scars dotting her body.

More recently, another mature female RK13 was sighted in 2011 with two apparent shark wounds–one above her left fore flipper and the other on her right ventral side. We reported on it here. She was regularly sighted along Kapaa’s canals as she recovered from her injuries. She was also pregnant at the time but eventually gave birth to a healthy pup, RL10. Then, in May of this year, we reported here that RK13 was sighted with an unsightly wound to her nares (nostrils), possibly due to a shark bite. Monk seals have an amazing ability to heal themselves through a process called “tissue granulation,” and RK13’s wound healed nicely.

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There are two other known seals with shark wounds. RH92 was a newly weaned pup in 2016 when she turned up with a fresh and deep cookie cutter shark wound on her head.

RICOH IMAGING

R1KY has a large shark bite scar below her right fore flipper, most visible on her dorsal side. R1KY

It’s impossible to know for sure that all these scars are due to sharks and specifically what kind of shark; however, three shark species are common suspects:

  1. Tiger: Considered an apex predator, Tiger sharks grow to lengths of 18 feet and longer, wearing up to 2,000 pounds. This shark inhabits coastal and pelagic waters. Tiger sharks mature slowly and pup in litters of 35 to 55 individuals. Their name comes from the dark, vertical stripes that, interestingly, lighten in color as they age. They can live 30 to 40 years. They eat a wide variety of marine animals and carrion and have been called, “the garbage can of the sea.”
  2. Cookiecutter: The cookiecutter shark, also called the cigar shark, lives in warm, oceanic waters worldwide and particularly near islands. Its common name comes from the cookie cutter-like wounds it leaves in its prey. It lives at depths of 3,200 feet during the day but migrates up the water column at night to feed. To feed, the fish uses its suction cup-like lips to attach itself onto prey. Then, it spins its body, using the row of serrated teeth on its lower jaw to remove a plug of flesh, leaving behind crater-like wounds that are two inches across and approximately two-and-a-half inches deep.
  3. Galapagos: This shark grows to 10 feet in length and generally eats bottom fishes and cephalopods. In the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, where approximately 85 percent of the Hawaiian monk seal species lives, Galapagos sharks have been recorded predating on monk seal pups in nearshore waters around French Frigate Shoals. It’s hypothesized that a small group of sharks are involved in this behavior. You can read more about this unusual mortality event and mitigation efforts here.

Not all appearances of sharks spell trouble for monk seals, as this video from National Geographic’s CritterCam shows. At 1:50, you’ll see sharks in the foreground but no interaction between the species. And at 4:42, you’ll see the Crittercam-toting monk seal chase off a couple reef sharks.

 

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Field Report: Summer

2017 pups are all weaned and tagged!

Monk Seal Pup RJ22-2All weaned pups this year are males (all three last year were females, born to the same moms at same locations!). RK30’s pup born along the Na Pali coast, is a nice big healthy weaner, now known as RJ36 (tagged J36/J37). We are grateful to Captain Tara Leota and Kauai Sea Riders for assistance to monitor and deliver the Kauai team to tag this pup.

RK22 weaned her pup RJ22 (tagged J22/J23) on the northeast coast and was found one morning entangled in in monofilament fishing line. Fortunately, while we were monitoring,  he was able to free himself from the fishing line. This demonstrates why it is so important to check the seals regularly–and to pick up marine debris whenever possible.

The last pup to wean, was RO28’s pup now known as RJ28 (tagged J28/J29). This pup remains on his natal beach while RJ22 has already started exploring more of the coast, moving south.

Seals of Concern Updates

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Photo credit: Miyashiro.

RH92, juvenile female was translocated from Kapaa to PMRF in March. We are pleased to report that even though she returned to the Fuji Beach area she is no longer logging nor feeding on fish scraps in the canal. She continues to forage normally along the east coast and just finished her first molt.

Another yearling female, RH38, is getting ready to molt along the north shore, and we are monitoring her closely as her weight is low.

Unusual hook discovery

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Photo credit: Thomton 

An unknown, untagged, clean adult male seal showed up on the south shore with a large J-hook stuck in his back. A second J-hook was attached with a metal leader and there was 17 feet of very heavy (400 lb) monofilament trailing. Coordinators were able to cut away all of monofilament and the dangling second hook.

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Photo credit: Thomton

The remaining hook embedded in the skin is non-life threatening and will eventually come out on its own, however we will closely monitor this seal and intervene if necessary. Fishermen have informed us that the gear that hooked the seal is used to catch marlin by trolling behind a fast moving boat.

Meanwhile, in Waikiki

One of Kauai’s longtime breeding females, RH58 or “Rocky,” pupped on at Kaimana Beach in Waikiki on Oahu–and instantly became the darling of beachgoers. The mom and pup, a female, provided NOAA staff and volunteers with additional concern when they swam inside the Natatorium by way of an opening in its crumbling seawall. Eventually, once RH58 weaned her fat and healthy pup, the pup was relocated to a more remote location for her safety. As we’ve discussed here many times, young seals are most vulnerable right after weaning. This is a time they spend exploring their natal beach, learning what’s edible and what isn’t. At this age, they are quite curious and social, approaching other seals and, even, people on the beach and in the water as they go about figuring out how to survive as a seal on their own. For her safety, scientists decided to move RH58’s pup to a more remote location.

And at Midway Atoll

A mother monk seal bit a woman–an employee with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service–several times while the woman was swimming in the only section of water open for recreational use. The monk seal approached the woman from an adjacent beach where she had pupped. The woman remained on Midway to recover from her injuries. While this incident is extremely unfortunate, it is a good reminder that monk seals are wild animals and that each seal is an individual, each reacting differently to what might seem to be similar situations.

 

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Busy Month De-hooking Seals.

Juvenile male seal RG22 was found with a small hook again on May 1. A team was quickly assembled to capture and attempt hook removal. The original small J hook was no longer visible, however a rusty medium sized circle hook was incidentally found wedged inside the left lower jaw, which required sedation for removal. RG22 was transported to the DLNR base yard and held overnight to await arrival of an Oahu veterinary team to assist. He was sedated and the rusty hook was removed. Radiographs revealed that the smaller hook and was no longer present.

RG22 hook(ValBloy)3

PC: V. Bloy.

On May 11, hooked adult female RK90 was found with large male, R336 at Ahukini Cove. Due to her large size, a skilled NOAA seal handler from Oahu joined the Kauai team. The team isolated and captured RK90 with crowding boards, removed the large circle hook and immediately released her to re-join R336.

RICOH IMAGING

PC: M. Miyashiro.

 

Seals of Concern Updates.

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Photo credit: L. Nowatzki.

Subadult male, RN02, continues to interact with people in the water, but the level of interaction seems to have decreased somewhat in May. Fortunately we are seeing that he socializes with seals extensively (and the odd turtle!). He has not made contact with people yet. This is a good reminder to remember NOT to engage with monk seals in the water.

RH92, juvenile female, translocated to the West Side, returned to Lihi canal within two weeks, however we are pleased to report that she is foraging in a wider range along the east coast and spending less time in the canal where fish scrap dumping appears to have decreased due to increased outreach and law enforcement patrols.

 

Seals Heal in Amazing Ways!

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Photo credit: M. Miyashiro.

Adult female, RK13 was found on April 26 with a large wound to her face, with tears to the skin around her nose, leaving her left nostril (nare) no longer visible. Close inspection revealed a series of triangular cuts, indicating a shark bite. Seal wounds close up and fill in by a process called tissue granulation. We expected RK13 to have extensive scarring and possibly the loss of a nare. Amazingly one month later, her face was completely healed with only a few small scars and both nares patent and normal! Our NOAA veterinarian was kept informed of the wounds and healing progress to determine if intervention was indicated. Though wildlife wounds often look disturbing, wild animal medicine demonstrates how resilient wild animals are.

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More new seals for Kauai.

On March 28 a juvenile male seal was first sighted on the North Shore. His only remarkable scar was a small cookie cutter shark bite on his left mid side. He quickly became a regular, so a team was put together to tag him with flipper tags 3CD and 3CE, making his official ID R3CD. He also received a morbillivirus vaccine.

V76(Thomton)

PC: Thomton

A new adult female seal with a small pit scar on her right mid side also started to appear on the rocks at Brenneke’s beach, and continues to rest there regularly. She was bleach marked V76, and received her first morbillivirus vaccination.

RG22 dehooked.

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PC: Thomton

On April 16, visitors snorkeling at Mahaulepu called the hotline to report that they had cut free a seal entangled on coral. They sent a video that identified it as juvenile male, RG22. The next day, he was sighted at Palamas, so a team was assembled to respond. Fortunately, even sporting the biggest hook we’ve ever come across, the team was able to cut and remove the hook that pierced the left corner of his mouth. The fishing gear was a slide bait rig used for ulua fishing and included the bait that looked like a Hawaiian white eel or Conger eel, known locally as Tohei.

RH92 returns to Lihi Canal.

RH92 (Dennis Fujimoto)

PC: Fujimoto

After wildlife biologists and veterinarians relocated 10-month-old RH92 on March 30th from the Lihi Canal in Kapa‘a to a beach on the island’s west side, we’d hoped she would stay away from the canal. Unfortunately, she returned to the canal along with an adult seal (RK13). Together they’ve been seen feeding on small fish in the manmade waterway along with discarded fish parts. The return of RH92 to Lihi is prompting stepped-up public awareness and outreach and potentially enforcement of littering laws for fishermen who dispose of fish parts in the water.

Seals of concern.

RN02, subadult male, has demonstrated increased curiosity of people, pursuing swimmers and following the public up the beach. He is also interacting with scuba divers, taking fish from skin divers at Koloa Landing. He then hauled out on the boat ramp, undisturbed by divers walking past him to enter and exit the water. RN02 was displaced from the ramp using crowding boards. RN02’s curiosity also proved dangerous with marine debris, found around his neck, which he later escaped on his own. We hope this is just a part of reaching sexual maturity, but we are considering ways to curb his behaviors.

Another incident of concern made the evening news (click here) in which a dog owner should have moved away from the seal, but instead engaged the seal, and endangered both his pet dog (on a leash) and the seal.

Kauai Vaccinations have begun for 2017.

This year we will include females (except those within two months of pupping) in our morbillivirus vaccination program. This includes 18 males and 26 females. Coordinators will be busy trying to find these seals to give initial vaccines and boosters 3-5 weeks later, so we appreciate all your sightings!

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Field Report: Winter 2017

The winter of 2017 has turned out to be busy for the Kauai HMS Conservation Hui.

RICOH IMAGING

Photo credit: Miyashiro

In January a new juvenile female seal was sighted. She has what appears to be a healed cookie cutter shark bite behind her left eye. She also has a pit scar on her right mid side. She was originally sighted on Ni’ihau and is officially R347.

In February five more juvenile female seals were sighted. Four of them were bleach marked and/or flipper tagged, so we can track and monitor them, especially since several of them are fairly clean of scars or natural bleach marks can often be used to identify untagged seals.

One with a faint scar behind her left eye was entered into the monk seal registry as R351 and bleach marked V73. A week later, using her bleach mark to identify her, she turned up on Molokai.

A youngish female popped up on the east shore several times, with a distinguishable natural bleach mark on the tips of her left fore flipper. She was flipper tagged and is now 1NS.

R1NS(Miyashiro)1

Photo credit: Miyashiro

On the west shore, a juvenile female was bleached V75 and flipper tagged as 1KM.

Two more female yearlings were found on the west shore, one of which was bleached as V2.

20170223,Palamas,RN02(JDT)3

Photo credit: Thomton

In February, RN02, a subadult male who was translocated from Big Island to Niihau in 2013 after he repeatedly interacted aggressively with swimmers, was sighted with blood near his mouth. A visual examination revealed a small hook and approximately six inches of monofilament fishing line along his gum line. Consultation was made with a marine mammal vet, and it was determined the hook would likely loosen and fall out on its own. Thus, no intervention was deemed necessary at the time.

Sadly, a well-known Kauai seal was found dead in late February. R4DP, a female, was approximately 15 years old. She was first tagged on Kauai in 2008. That same year she was flown to Oahu for examination for suspected ingestion of a fish hook. Upon examination, no hook was found, and she was returned to Kauai and released. Unfortunately, after necropsy, it was determined R4DP’s injuries were inconsistent with natural causes. Thus, as a marine mammal protected by the Endangered Species Act, her death is being investigated by law enforcement officials.

This is the 11th “suspicious death” of a monk seal since 2009, and the first since 2014.  Anyone having information related to the death of R4DP or any other suspected monk seal death should call the NOAA OLE hotline at 1-800-853-1964 or DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) at (808) 873-3990 or 643-DLNR.

2016 Pup Update:

Weaned pup updates RH80 continues to appear on the north and east coasts of Kauai, looking healthy. Also, for the first time since she was flipper tagged last summer, RH38 popped up on the North Shore, also looking healthy.

RICOH IMAGING

Photo credit: Miyashiro

RH92 is looking good, too, although she turned up with a cookie cutter shark bite on the right side of her head. Though it is the usual 3” circular wound, it appears very large on her small head and looks deep. Fortunately the bite missed vital structures of her eye and ear. Monk seals have an amazing capacity to heal from large wounds on their own. RH92 is healing fine, and the wound will likely shrink to a small pit scar. Of greater concern for RH92 is that she was found for the first time hanging out near a small boat landing, foraging and eating a fish, likely scraps tossed out by fishermen. This is a good reminder not to throw fish and scraps into the water, especially if a seal is present.

Lihi Canal

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Field Report: October

Logged seal sightings:
October: 208
September: 222
August: 230
July: 414
June: 356
May: 263


Updates on Pups.

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Photo credit: G. Langley

Weaned female pups RH80 and RH92 continue to explore more widely and then return to their natal beach. As you may have read last month, RH92 was bitten by a loose dog on the beach, but fortunately her wounds were minor and she quickly healed. The same dog was observed unleashed and went after RH92 again, however did not make contact with the seal. DOCARE was notified and will follow up. Another dog was found running at-large without its owner and was transferred to the Kauai Humane Society (KHS). Hawaii state laws forbid dogs being off leash, including service dogs. A dog off leash is a danger to itself and a seal, due to bite wounds and spread of disease. We continue to track and monitor these vulnerable, naive weaned seals as much as possible.


Other Seal Events.

  • R339 and RG22 both molted. To learn more about molting in monk seals, click here.
  • RK28, observed with large mobbing wounds and abscesses on her back, continues to heal. For more information about male aggression in monk seals, click here.
  • RG22 was bleach marked V22. To learn more about why and how we bleach mark monk seals, click here.

NOAA Fisheries “Species in the Spotlight: Hawaiian Monk Seals.”
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The latest Spotlight on Monk Seals update was released from NOAA Fisheries and is available here.


Voices of our Youth to Save Hawaiian Monk Seals.

Malama Learning Center has completed a year-long project developed through work with Wai’anae Searider Productions on protecting the Hawaiian Monk Seal. They focused on using voices of our youth to get key messages out about ways we can respect and be better neighbors with our native Hawaiian monk seal. The youth are featured because they speak from their hearts and they can perhaps be the best messengers to reach their peers as well as adults.

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The campaign is called: Seal ‘n’ Danger. Mahalo to Kapolei High School students for creating that clever name. You can access all elements of the project on the

new website. The website contains facts and important information on ways people can help. It also houses five new videos featuring students from O’ahu and Moloka’i, as well as scientists and resource managers. And it is beautifully illustrated with artwork courtesy of local wildlife artist, Patrick Ching.

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