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Archive for the ‘RK14’ Category

During a weekend in April 2018, a record-setting storm ravaged Kaua’i. Not a square yard of the island was spared. Lightning lit up the sky. Thunder shook the walls of homes down to their foundation. Streams swelled into rivers and rivers into raging water racing for the ocean, sweeping away homes and cars and, even, buffalo en route.

The hardest hit was a stretch of approximately eight miles on the North Shore, beginning just west of Hanalei and stopping at the road’s end at Ke’e. When it was all said and done, one rain gauge measured a 24-hour rainfall of a whopping 49.7 inches. A U.S. record. All that rain triggered rockslides, ripped out sections of the road, and damaged bridges, instantly making Historic Highway 560 impassable. The road closure reduced the number of people on Haena’s beaches from 3,000 to, maybe, three daily.

With so few people on the beach, there was little need for volunteers to help with outreach. However, a few stalwart volunteers who live in the area continued to scout for seals, conducting health assessments and providing reports to the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui.

On Monday, June 17, 2019 the road re-opened to the public for the first time, and by 8:30 in the morning, RK52 was reported on the beach. She’s a regular there. But R313, RK05, RH38, RK14 and several others have been sighted on these beaches, as well.

There are only a few volunteers in the Haena area; however, lifeguards and Haena residents often help out by setting up signs and monitoring seals. To prepare for the return of visitors now that the road is open and the beaches are filling up again, racks filled with signs are stationed every 200-300 yards beginning at Hanalei Colony Resort all the way to the very end of the road at Ke’e Beach Park. This is approximately a 4 mile stretch of beach. We welcome the assistance of all beach users to assist with educating visitors who may approach seals too closely or not understand that seals often haul-out and rest alone along this shoreline. If you’d like to become a trained volunteer, please call 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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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.

Screen Shot 2018-05-07 at 4.26.35 PM

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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In November, the Kauai team logged 239 seal sightings. This included 35 individually identified seals. Here’s a look at how the 239 number compares to other months.

November: 239
October: 225
September: 354
August: 236
July: 335

As a reminder, there are numerous reasons that can effect the number of reported seal sightings. Two big ones are the availability of our steadfast volunteers taking their daily beach walks, and the presence of moms with pups and the subsequent “pup sitting” we do. Of course, the seals themselves play a factor in this, too. Maybe there’s some seasonality in foraging that takes them to remote areas of the island where we don’t see them. That’s the thing with animals that spend the majority of their lives at sea–we don’t quite know.

Other November news to note:

  • Seal activity continues around Poipu Beach Park with seals swimming among swimmers, snorkelers and the water aerobics class and hauling out on the beach amidst beach-goers. Our advice continues to be for everyone involved to give the animal its space and never approach, touch, harass, disturb it. Remember: Monk seals are wild animals; let’s keep them that way.
  • One additional monk seal received its morbillivirus vaccination in November. This virus, similar to distemper in dogs, has not infected the monk seal species. But in a proactive effort to combat an outbreak, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Science Program started vaccinating seals last year. To learn more about the threat of morbillivirus, read this Smithsonian article.
  • Two seals “bleach-marked” this month–RG22 as V22 and R340 as V77. To learn more about using Clairol to help identify individuals seals, read this previous #MonkSealMonday report.
  • Four seals completed their molts in November, including: RH38, RG58, RK14, RH80. To learn more about molting in Hawaiian monk seals, read this previous #MonkSealMonday report.

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Monk Seal Monday #5

It’s the Monday after Thanksgiving, and there’s probably a few of us who could shed a few pounds after feasting all weekend, so let’s talk about molting.

Healthy Hawaiian monk seals molt once a year. That is, they shed the top layer of their skin–and their fur along with it. It’s called a “catastrophic” molt, because it happens over a shortened period of time of about 10 days to two weeks. Unlike a snake, say, the process doesn’t happen all in one piece but in bits and pieces. A monk seal can look pretty raggedy during this time. The molting process taxes the monk seal’s energetic resources, so you’ll often find a molting animal tucked under bushes and resting on the beach. That’s all the more reason to not disturb them and why the HMSRP rarely uses them as study subjects–say for telemetry and/or video camera purposes.

We’ve got a couple Hawaiian monk seals going through their annual catastrophic molts right now and a few more ready to start any time, including RH80, RH38, and, possibly, RK14.

The clue to knowing when a monk seal is about to molt is when they start looking very green. Monk seals tend to spend two-thirds of their life in the water. During that time, algae can grow on their fur, typically in areas where a monk seal’s fur doesn’t always dry out–under the fore flipper and around their rear flippers.

IMG_1620

lynn-nowatzki

Photo credit: Lynn Nowatzki

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First Kaua`i Pup of 2016

First Kaua‘i Pup of 2016

On April 26, a video showed a seal at Salt Ponds County Beach Park being harassed by a man. The seal was reported as RK30, a 17-year-old female and pregnant at the time. The video went viral, and a 19-year-old man was arrested within a few days by Hawai‘i State DLNR officers and NOAA Law Enforcement. Story here and video here.

The good news is that less than a week later, RK30 gave birth to her seventh pup. Story here.

PK1b

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We expect more to be born on Kauai, so be on the look out for any small black pups! Here is our schedule of expected births:

  • RK13 Due possibly any day, though her pregnancy is unsure.
  • RK22 Due at the end of May
  • RO28 Due June 10
  • RH58 Due July 28
  • RK14 Pupped early July 2015, usually pups on Ni’ihau
  • R313 Not sure when she pupped 2015, usually pups on Ni’ihau
  • RK28 Likely pupped June 2015 on Ni’ihau

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2015 Recap

2015 Total Numbers for Kauai Marine Mammal Response Network

We tallied the efforts of our 100+ member volunteer network over the past year and are excited to share the numbers with all of you. The gradual increase in seal sightings and numbers clearly show that monk seals are doing well in the Main Hawaiian Islands. We want to emphasize that it is the efforts of our volunteers that make this possible!

 Grand sightings total: 3,321 (9.1/day) monk seal sightings on Kauai in 2015 (up from 2,516 in 2014 or 6.9 seals/day)!

  •   Kauai population: 53 unique individual seals sighted in 2015 (47 in 2014)
  •   Births: 4 seal pups born on Kauai. Two pregnant females likely pupped on Ni’ihau (RK14 and RK28 departed pregnant, returned thin)
  •  Mortalities: RF22 – died from propeller strike
  •   Ni’ihau Seals: sighted 14 new seals in 2015 likely from Ni’ihau
  •   Kauai team flipper tagged 5 of these new unknown juveniles
  •   Bleach marking effort: 22 bleach marks were applied

Stranding: 6 monk seal responses.

  •  R6AP – dewormed and examined, SAT tag showed seal moved to Ni’ihau
  •  RN44 – circle hook removed from cheek at Larsens Beach. Full recovery.
  •  RF22 – found dead, cause of death was propeller strike.
  •  RF28 – ingested a circle hook. Transported to Oahu for surgical removal, released at Waipake after successful hook removal.
  •  RF28 – follow-up capture/exam due to flipper lameness. Minor laceration discovered, seal fully recovered from hooking.
  •  N1AA – J hook removed on the beach at PMRF. Full recovery.

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