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Archive for the ‘RK13’ Category

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.

R1KY on 04182018R1KY on 07172018

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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Sightings:

The Kauai team logged 33 individually identified monk seals on Kauai in May, for a grand total of 332 sightings. This equates to more than 10 monk seals sighted and reported per day.

New:

  • Juvenile female R7AA hauled out onto roads or parking lots three times in the Poipu area this past month. In order to prevent injury from vehicle traffic she was quickly displaced back onto the beach and into the water.
  • We are currently tracking several pregnant females that we expect to pup any day now. That includes the well known RK30 and a more reclusive seal RK22. Two other females, RH58 and RO28, that are typically on Oahu but come back to their birth beaches on Kauai to pup, are both pregnant and approaching their due dates.

Updates:

  • RK13 gave birth to PK1 on 4/20/2018. Extensive monitoring was immediately set-up and continues. Pup weaned after 37 days of nursing. Tagged as RK42. Mother, RK13, became unusually thin prior to weaning, but has been sighted several times since weaning. The pup has begun socializing with other seals, specifically with a 3-year old female bleach-marked V2.

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A few weeks ago, we reported the gender of PK1 as male. Well, she fooled both volunteers and veteran monk seal biologists, because more recent photographs reveal that PK is not male. She’s female. That’s good news. It takes more females (than males; sorry guys) to grow the Hawaiian monk seal population. Here’s the photographic evidence.

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 8.53.03 AM

See the five dots in the shape reminiscent of the number five on a pair of dice? That’s the tell-tale sign.

In other pup news, we now have a “weaner.” After 37* days of care for her newborn, this pup’s mom, RK13, weaned her not-so-little one. This is normal monk seal biology. During the time from birth to weaning, monk seal moms do not forage. They stick by their pup’s side, nursing them and taking near-shore swims with them. Moms eventually lose half their body weight or more, and hunger drives them back to the sea for nourishment. This is how weaning occurs. Kauai’s first weaner of 2018 will now spend the next few months figuring out what’s good to eat in the sea. Weaners tend to stick around their natal birth site while doing this. Now is also a vulnerable time for new weaners, as they explore their surroundings, both near-shore and on the beach, making it as important as ever to give them wide space to do so safely–away from interactions with humans and dogs.

In the next few weeks, PK will be outfitted with flipper tags. Stay tuned. We’ll announce pup’s official tag numbers once she’s tagged.

Here are a few more photos of PK1’s last days with RK13. (Photo credit J. Thomton.) Note the molting on a couple closeups of the muzzle and tail flippers. You can also see in a few of these the size differential between mom and pup, indicating how much weight mom has lost and how much pup has gained.

 

*UPDATE: The official number of nursing days was changed from 41 to 37. It seems RK13 gradually weaned her pup. She first left her pup for a few hours on Friday and, again, on Saturday and Sunday. As of Sunday evening at sunset, the two had hauled out on the beach about 40 yards from each other. By the next morning, Monday, RK13 was gone. PK1’s first entire day alone was Memorial Day, May 28, 2018.

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 8.52.51 AMScreen Shot 2018-05-27 at 8.52.38 AMScreen Shot 2018-05-27 at 8.52.23 AMScreen Shot 2018-05-27 at 8.52.01 AMScreen Shot 2018-05-27 at 8.51.43 AMScreen Shot 2018-05-27 at 8.51.30 AM

 

 

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Sightings:

The Kauai team logged 303 seal sightings this month. This included 30 individually identified seals.

April: 303
March: 299
Feb: 259
Jan: 336

New:

  • RK13 gave birth to PK1 on 4/20/2018. Extensive monitoring was immediately set-up and continues. Unfortunately, the location is notorious for off-leash dogs and past conflict between beach users and the monk seal program. Thus far, only minor issues have risen. Pup continues to thrive.
  • RK52 gave birth to stillborn female pup. This was RK52’s first birth. Carcass was sent to Oahu for necropsy.

Updates:

  • NG00 was re-sighted once this month and is likely still hooked. (See previous monthly updates for background.)
  • Poipu Keiki Pool: 2 displacements took place this month.
  • Bleach markings: 2 seals bleach marked this month.
  • Molting activity: one seal continues to molt this month.

Research/Support of Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center:

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

 

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PK1 is 3.5 weeks old today, and he’s healthy-looking, active, and spending more and more time swimming. His routine of late finds him exploring the nearshore waters in the mornings and sleeping on the sand in the afternoons. Such is the life of a young Hawaiian monk seal pup.

Here’s a sweet sequence of images of PK1 and his mom RK13. You can also see how mom is losing weight, the natural course of a nursing monk seal mom’s biology. Her rib and shoulder bones are starting to become visible. She basically fasts the entire time she nurses her pup–all the while he packs on the pounds. Eventually, hunger will drive her to the sea to forage, at which point, he’ll be weaned.

Now, enjoy the slide show. (Photo credit goes to Jamie Thomton.)

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And now for the big gender reveal: The pup born on April 20th is a boy.

Mom (RK13) and pup (PK1) are doing great. Pup is growing stronger, and the two are swimming farther. They’ve even started to swim outside their large enclosure but for now continue to return to it to haul out, rest and nurse. But likely, not for long. As pup enters week three, he and mom will swim and explore more, notching total swim times of four to five hours a day. Soon, we’ll switch up their enclosure to a more portable one utilizing mesh fence panels. This can make for a busy time for our volunteers.

But there are interesting things to observe, as well, in pups of this age. Soon, he’ll start his first molt, losing his shiny black natal coat. Typically, it starts with the muzzle, face, chest, neck, and sides.

When pup wants to eat, he’ll vocalize and maybe even nip at mom to get her to roll over, so he can access her teats. Here’s an interesting factoid: The bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus) (Mohr, 1952) and the monk seal are apparently the only phocids having four functional teats. Those four are apparently getting good use with PK1. Let’s run some numbers: Say PK1 weighed 25 pounds at birth. And let’s say mom weans him at five weeks when pup weighs 150 pounds. That means pup is gaining 25 pounds per week. Or 3.5 pounds per day. Maybe more.

Little is known about Hawaiian monk seal milk. Much is inferred from other seal species. Like the fact that milk composition changes throughout the course of lactation. A newborn needs more water than fat. Whereas, an older pup can derive water metabolically from fat stores, a newborn can only obtain water by ingesting its mothers’ watery milk. As a pup ages, its mother’s milk fats increase while the water content decreases.

Screen Shot 2018-05-07 at 4.26.23 PM

As pup starts swimming more, he’s also started exploring his surroundings on land. Unfortunately, this can include rubbish and marine debris on the beach. Some time between weeks three and four, pup’s teeth will start to erupt through his gums.

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As is often the case whenever a pup is born, some males have been visiting the scene, as well. Here’s a video of RK13’s response to a curious male (R330). It’s fair to say that this is the same way she’d respond to a person or a loose dog who gets too close to her, as well–and in the water, she’s much more swift and agile. A mother’s tenancy is protect her pup is strong and why we encourage people and their pets to give monk seal mamas plenty of space.

Speaking of videos, here’s one taken of a Hawaiian monk seal weaner with a knife in his mouth. This was taken in April off Hawaii Island. While this pup was uninjured and the knife eventually retrieved by a DOCARE officer, it’s a good reminder to properly dispose of trash. However, there are other ways dangerous items may accidentally make their way to the shoreline, such as during the recent heavy rains and flooding on Kauai, making beach cleanups all the more important for humans and animals.

Monk Seal and Knife from Hawaii DLNR on Vimeo.

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