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Archive for the ‘RJ36’ Category

In 2019, the south shore volunteer team was managing two, three, four and sometimes as many as six or seven seals at Poipu at the same time. Challenging times, indeed. Sometimes all seals clustered in one zone; sometimes they spread out over two or even three zones. Of course, the most challenging spot to manage human/seal interactions was the spot that seals liked most, which happened to be the main snorkeling water entrance/exit. In one emergency, lifeguards had to carry a drowning victim over two resting seals, literally, to bring her ashore for CPR. The good news is the rescue was a success, and the person recovered fully.

Then, earlier this year, when the COVID stay-at-home orders were instituted, the volunteer program was placed on hold, and tourism came to a virtual halt. We expected that the seals at Poipu would enjoy resting undisturbed. However, since the pandemic began, the seals seem to have disappeared from the Poipu area. One reason may be there are fewer people on the beaches, so there are fewer calls coming in the hotline. Make sense. But was there something else going on?

Here’s what a review of the data from the daily sightings log revealed:

As expected the number of seals reported in the Poipu area during April-August of this year dropped to a total of 73 sightings. The prior year, during the same five month window, there were a total of 257 reported seal sightings.

A comparison of the individual seals sighted in Poipu in 2019 versus 2020 during that same April-August window revealed the number of unique seals identified in the Poipu area dropped from 21 unique seals in 2019 to 12 in 2020. Too, there’s a slightly different cast of characters hauling out at Poipu this year.

Notably, the notorious “Poipu boys,” a group of rough-housing male seals, have split up with several moving to Oahu, and a couple others moving back to Niihau. From that notorious group, only RG58 remains, and he’s often spotted on the rocks near Brenneckes Beach these days.

Also, two seals from 2019 that occasionally hauled out at Poipu have died—RK30 of old age late last year and RJ36 of a hook ingestion several months ago. Apart from the loss of these two, all the other Poipu regulars of last year are still alive, based on sighting reports across the state.

What this tells us is seal behavior isn’t static, and just when you come to expect the expected out of a seal or group of seals or a particular haul-out location, things change.  As the old philosopher Heroclitus said, “Change is the only constant in life.” Guess he was talking about seals, too.

For more specifics take a look at the list of seals seen in 2019 and 2020.

April through August 2019 – These 21 individuals comprised the 257 reported seal sightings in the Poipu area from Shipwrecks to Lawai Beach):

NG00 -sighted at PMRF in 2020 and frequently on Niihau
R1KY
R1NI
R336 – rare seal
R339 – now an Oahu regular
R376
R3CX – now an Oahu regular
R402 – rare seal
R6FQ – sighted elsewhere on Kauai on 2019 and 2020
R7AA
RF28 – now an Oahu regular
RF30
RG22 – now an Oahu regular
RG58
RH38
RJ36 
RK30 – died of old age in late 2019
RK36 – occasional visitor from Oahu
RK90
RN02 – sighted at PMRF in 2020 and frequently on Niihau
RW22 – occasional visitor from Oahu

April through August 2020 – These 12 unique individuals made up the 73 reported seal sightings in the Poipu area (Shipwrecks to Lawai Beach): 

R1KY
R1NI
R339
R340 – rarely sighted on Kauai
R376
R407 – rarely sighted on Kauai
R7AA
RF30
RG58
RH38
RJ36 – died from hook ingestion in the first half of 2020
RK90

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RJ36 lineSadly, the story of three-year-old juvenile RJ36 ends with a cautionary tale about the deadly threat of fisheries interactions.

Last Monday, June 22, three-year-old juvenile RJ36 hauled out at a west side beach, reported to be breathing heavily and with a long fishing line wrapped around his body. A response was initiated, but, sadly, RJ36 expired before help could be provided. The heavy monofilament line with a metal “pigtail” swivel, used for ulua slide bait fishing, was found leading from his mouth.

Initial examination suggests cause of death was related to the ingestion of a fishing hook; however, the fish hook appeared to be fully ingested.

RJ36 was born to RK30 along Napali Coast in 2017. Since then, he’s been a west side and south shore regular. RJ36 was seen on the south shore several times earlier this year while molting.

Due to COVID-19, no necropsy was performed; however, the body was collected to be examined at a later date. This will help determine where the hook was lodged and how it caused his death. The necropsy will also assess his overall health to better understand the larger issues facing the species.

RJ36 PC NOAA Permit 18786The loss of RJ36’s is a reminder to encourage the use of barbless hooks when fishing. His loss is also a good reminder to conduct a health check for all monk seals you come across on the beach. Check the body for any entanglements with fishing line, and check the mouth for any hooks. Fishers who accidentally hook a monk seal are encouraged to report the hooking as soon as possible. On Kauai, call 1-808-651-7668.

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Update: The Kauai team logged 264 seal sightings this month. This included 39 individually identified seals.

February: 264
January: 319
December: 180
November: 223
October: 258
September: 203
August: 324
July: 239
June: 179
May: 262
April: 348
March: 350

New:

  • Adult female RK13 hauled out on the road shoulder at Fuji Beach, Kapaa, requiring one lane to be closed. She was displaced back into water by NOAA and DLNR staff, and the lane was re-opened.
  • Adult female RK13 hauled out with a small amount of gillnet wrapped around her muzzle and top teeth. A blunt hook attached to a pole was used to pull most of the net off. A small amount remained attached to the top left canine but did not pose a hazard and was gone by the next day.
  • Juvenile male R1NI was displaced from under a hazardous undercut bank at Kiahuna Beach, Poipu. The overhanging bank collapsed two days later.
  • Juvenile female NL04 sighted on Kauai. This seal was born on Niihau and flipper tagged during a Niihau survey. She hauled out on the north shore and was the first sighting her on Kauai. 

Updates on previously reported issues:

  • Five of the six pups born in 2019 have been sighted recently and continue to thrive, the sixth is likely on the remote Na Pali Coast.
  • Displacements: Adult male R4DW was displaced from Glass Beach at sunset due to the unsafe night time haul-out location.
  • Molting: 
    • RN44 completed his molt on the north shore.
    • RJ36 molted on the south shore.
    • RK58 molted on the south shore.
  • Bleach marking: 1 applied this month.

Research/Support of Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center

  • Sub-sampled scat, molt, and tissue plug samples accordingly.
  • Logged all seal sightings for PIFSC database. Organized photos and reported sightings, molt tallies, survival factors to send to PIFSC.

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Field Report: January 2020

Monthly Update: The Kauai team logged 319 seal sightings this month. This included 39 individually identified seals.

January 319
December: 180
November: 223
October: 258
September: 203
August: 324
July: 239
June: 179
May: 262
April: 348
March: 350
Feb: 303

New:

·       As a volunteer arrived to assess a seal that had recently hauled out, she observed a man poking adult female R1KY with a stick. The volunteer conducted outreach and found the seal resting normally.

·       The general public reported that a small seal hauled out at Shipwrecks Beach on the south shore and was quickly chased back into the water by an off-leash dog. The seal was unharmed.

Updates:

·       Subadult female R7AA, dehooked the previous month, was re-sighted 4 times in January in good condition and completely healed from the hooking.

·       Five of the six pups born in 2019 have been sighted recently and continue to thrive, the sixth is likely on the remote Na Pali Coast.

·       Displacements: RJ36 was displaced (with permission from NOAA) from the Poipu Keiki Pool for the first time. Two weeks later he hauled out on the Keiki Pool Beach again, but was in an unsafe location for displacement so was not hazed off the beach.

·       Molting: RN44 molted at a remote north shore beach and RK90 molted at a remote west side beach, requiring little volunteer response and outreach effort. Adult female R313 also appears freshly molted.

·       Bleach marking: 2 applied this month.

Research/Support of Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center:

·       Sub-sampled scat, molt, and tissue plug samples accordingly.

·       Logged all seal sightings for PIFSC database. Organized photos and reported sightings, molt tallies, survival factors to send to PIFSC.

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After a lengthy 53 (possibly 55) days, RK30 weaned her pup, and PK3 is now officially RL30. At tagging, she (yes, female) measured 126 centimeters from the tip of her nose to the tip of her tail and measured 104 centimeters at her plumpest just below her fore flippers.

IMG_6198

PC. J. Thomton.

This is RK30’s 11th known pup and her longest known nursing period. Conservatively, she nursed for 53 days; however, she may have nursed for as long as 55. The exact date isn’t quite exact, because RK30 pupped on a remote beach and daily reports aren’t always daily. Prior to this year, RK30’s longest known nursing duration was 51 days (RJ36) in 2017 and her shortest known nursing bout was 46 days (RL24) in 2012.

RK30 is something of a poster-seal illustrating the kinds of threats these animals face. Her story of perseverance can be read here.

If you’re keeping count, Kauai’s mamas produced a total of three females and two males this year. In 2019, three regulars birthed and raised pups on Kauai–RK30, RK28, and RH58. After previously pupping on Maui and Lanai, RB00 pupped for the first time on Kauai, her birth island. And after giving birth to a stillborn pup last year, RK52 produced a healthy pup this year.

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Just two days shy of eight weeks after giving birth, RB00 finally weaned her pup, PK1.

RB00 nursed for a grand total of 54 days. That’s the longest stretch of nursing days for a Kauai pup going back to and including data on pups since 2012. The previous record was 51 days set in 2017 by RK30, a well-known (and well-storied) mom. Her pup was RJ36. The year prior, in 2016, RK30 nursed her pup (RH38) for a total of 50 days.

The average number of nursing days for Kauai moms since 2012 is 42 days. Last year, RK30 nursed for 49 days while both RK28 and RO28 nursed their pups for 39 days each.

The shortest number of nursing days occurred in 2012 when RK13 weaned RL10 after 32 days. During her pregnancy, RK13 experienced two injuries consistent with shark bites that left her in smaller condition than her usual pregnancy weight.

Here are some of the very last photos of PK1 with RB00 and also a few from his first day on his own. Watch for one photo in particular that illustrates clearly why some people theorize that the moniker “monk” for these seals harken to the kind of hood some religious monks wear as part of their habit.

As always, thanks to Gary Langley for so generously sharing his photographs.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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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.

left_seal_J36_male_12DEC17_DL

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.

20170426,Fuji,RK13(Miyashiro)

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

20170725,Fuji,RH92(Miyashiro)-molt

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

20170704,Poipu,UAM(JDT)

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.

20170704,Poipu,UAM(JDT)a

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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Last week, on a sunny day, our second pup of the year graduated to “weaner” status and was tagged RJ36. After about six weeks of dedicated nursing, RJ36’s mother, RK30, weaned him and headed back to the nourishing depths of the ocean to replenish the approximate one-third body weight she lost during the nearly six weeks she nursed RJ36 to a healthy weaner weight in the neighborhood of 175 pounds.

While the procedure to tag monk seal weaners only takes about five minutes, the effort to tag this pup took much longer–all due to the remote location of where RK30 chose to birth.

For years now, the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Hui has been aided when accessing remote beaches by marine biologist Captain Tara Leota, sole owner-operator of Kauai Sea Rider Adventures. Captain Tara leads small groups of ecologically-minded guests on snorkeling adventures around Kauai. Captain Tara, her crew, and her guests welcomed our tagging team aboard her 25-foot rigid inflatable boat for the adventurous journey to find RJ36.

Currently, the way we track matriarchal lineage of monk seals is by visual observations of mothers and pups. As such, our goal is always to tag pups within days of their weaning. Once weaners start exploring other parts of the island and mixing with other monk seals, we cannot be sure of their lineage. Thus, Captain Tara has likely helped us know with surety the matriarchal lines of six or eight monk seals over the years. That’s a great effort.

Mahalo Kauai Sea Rider Adventures!

RJ36 (5) 7.19.17-2

Photo credit: V. Bloy

RJ36 (3) 7.9.17-2

Photo credit: V. Bloy

RJ36 tags 7.19.17-2

Photo credit: V. Bloy

Kauai Sea Riders Crew-2

Photo credit: V. Bloy

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