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Archive for the ‘RK13’ Category

As you may recall, the first Kauai pup was born on April 20, 2018 at Maha’ulepu to RK13. While this pup was with her mother she was known as PK1 (Pup Kauai #1), and then after 37 days of nursing, her mother weaned her, and we briefly captured and flipper tagged her. This process usually takes less than five minutes and includes a brief restraint while plastic flipper tags are applied in the webbing of the rear flippers. Her tags read K42 and K43, making her official ID RK42. The R indicates that she is part of the Main Hawaiian Island population and the K indicates she was born in 2018, and finally the 42 is her unique ID. During the tagging process her length and girth were also measured, a microchip was injected under her skin, and she was given her first vaccination against a virus in the measles family known as morbillivirus, also known as distemper in other species. You can learn more about this virus and the monk seal vaccination program here.

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As previously reported, RK42 became entangled in hook and line fishing gear on July 28th, which left a large fish hook in her mouth. The Kauai team quickly responded and captured her on the beach and removed the hook. The hook was a rather large barbed J-hook that was somewhat difficult to remove, primarily due to the sharp barb which caused some tissue damage in her mouth and mild bleeding. She spent the rest of that day resting normally at Maha’ulepu, but has not been seen since.

It is not uncommon for young seals to find a quiet out of the way places to haul-out, so we hope that is the case. In fact, it’s happened before. In June 2009, R5AY gave birth on a North Shore Kaua`i​ beach to a female pup who was eventually tagged RA20. After weaning, as RA20 started to explore, she all but disappeared. Time between sightings would stretch into months and years. Then, surprising everyone, she started popping up on Maui and Hawai`i Island beaches. In 2017, she gave birth to her first pup. Unfortunately, the pup did not survive. However, earlier this year, RA20 gave birth to a second, healthy pup.

As with most wildlife, surviving to adulthood is not easy. First year survival rates for monk seals in the Main Hawaiian islands is approximately 80%. The hooking was a very minor so we have little reason to believe it caused her longer term problems, but again young monk seals face many threats, both anthropogenic and natural. However, we are optimistic we will see her hauled out somewhere sometime soon in good health.

This is a good reminder to report all monk seal sightings on Kaua`i by calling our hotline–808-651-7668.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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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