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Archive for the ‘RK28’ Category

Field Report: July 2019

The Kauai team logged 239 seal sightings this month. This included 28 individually identified seals.

July: 239
June: 179
May: 262
April: 348
March: 350
Feb: 303
Jan: 284

New:

  • RK30 gave birth to PK3 on July 10 at a remote site along Na Pali coast that is accessible only by water. Kayak Kauai took signs out to post in key areas nearby.
  • RK28 gave birth to PK4 on July 19 at another remote location. Pup is thriving. Two stray German Shepherds were captured running loose near the newborn pup, on the day of birth and while RH58 was in labor.
  • RH58 gave birth to PK5 on July 20 just down the coast from RK28. With permission from NOAA, the Kauai team had to intervene and cut the umbilical cord to remove the placenta, which was still attached more than nine hours after birth.

Updates:

  • RH38 was released on July 22 after transport from Ke Kai Ola aboard a USCG C-130. Since then, she’s ranged across the North Shore and the Na Pali coast in the weeks following release and has showed no signs of interest in people on the beach or in the water.
  • The first two 2019 pups, RL08 and RL52, continue to thrive and range farther from their natal sites.
  • Displacements: 2 displacements occurred this month. Both were to remove S/F R7AA from the road edge. She was displaced a third time on Aug 1 from the Lawai Beach road edge as well.
  • Molting: 3 seals were observed molting this month.
  • Vaccinations: None given this month.

Research/Support of Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center

  • Sub-sampled scat, molt, placenta, 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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Predicting delivery dates of babies is hard. Without the aid of physical examinations and sonograms, it’s even harder to predict the birth dates of Hawaiian monk seals. And yet NOAA has gotten pretty darn good at it.

RK28 was expected to give birth around July 13th. She pupped on July 19th. (Note the “milk nose.” That’s one of the indicators that a pup has figured out how to nurse.)

PK4 Milk Nose

PC: VJBloy

PK4 in the Rain

PC: VJBloy

On the same day PK4 was born, two loose dogs were reported romping in the surf just down the beach from RK28 and pup. Thankfully, friendly people on the beach caught the dogs and prevented them from harming the seals. You may recall that RK28 lost a pup due to a dog(s) attack several years ago. You can read more about that tragedy here. So, this is a good opportunity to remind people not to let their dogs roam free.

One day later, RH58 gave birth to PK5.

RH58’s due date was predicted as August 1st, give or take. Instead, she pupped on July 20th. This was particularly challenging due date to estimate, since RH58, also known as Rocky, pre-weaned her pup last year after several pup-switches. You can read more about that here. But as these photos show, Rocky and pup are doing well and bonding nicely.

Rocky Napping on PK5

PC: VJBloy

PK5 and Rocky Napping

PC: VJBloy

PK5 Nursing

PC: VJBloy

 

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Earlier this year, we reported on male competition taking places along the shoreline on Kauai’s south side. It can get pretty aggressive–and another good reason to steer clear of monk seals in the water.

Now, we want to share about another kind of aggression among monk seals. This interaction generally but not always takes place between a group of males and a single female and is called male mobbing. Like “cruising males,” the perpetrators tend to be a group of competing sub-adult males.

In 2016, RK28 was observed with large wounds and abscesses on her back. It was determined these wounds were caused by male monk seals who had attempted to mount her and while doing so, biting her repeatedly on the back. The wounds can be pretty severe and certainly disconcerting-looking to our eyes. For good reason, it turns out.

According to the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center’s website, “Events involving multiple and single adult male Hawaiian monk seals exhibiting aggression towards adult females and immature seals has led to a significant number of severe injuries and deaths. Unfortunately, the loss of even a single female, and the loss of her lifetime reproductive potential, represents a significant setback to population recovery of this endangered species.”

Luckily, RK28 went on to give birth in 2018, and she’s thought to be pregnant again this year. If so, she may pup any time now.

Last week, one of our diligent volunteers ran across a video on Instagram, presumably taken in the waters off the nearby islands of Niihau and Lehua. In the caption, tour boat captain @crazy_capt_r writes, “This was an incredible experience! This is a very dramatic scene of the Hawaiian monk seal’s [sic] mating. In the video there are 9 males vying to mate with 1 female. She slips away from one male only to be grabbed by one of the other males waiting nearby. This is only a partial video of the whole ordeal. This went on for at least 30 minutes before they dispersed into deeper water.”

Here’s a link to the video. Warning: it might be disturbing to some people.

Tracy Mercer with the Hawaiian Monk Seal Science Team reviewed the video and confirmed the behavior is more consistent with male mobbing than mating. She also reported that she’s seen many females on Niihau with the scars from mobbing events. So, it’s not all that unusual, especially in pockets of the population when males greatly outnumber females. In fact, there have been instances over the years in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, where approximately 85 percent of the species’ population resides, that have led to the demise of enough females to cause NOAA to intervene.

Also from the NOAA PIFSC website:

Over an 11 year period from 1984-1994, 37 male seals were selectively removed from Laysan Island to restore a balanced sex ratio. These seals were translocated to Johnston Atoll (n=9) or the main Hawaiian Islands (n=21), placed into captivity (n=5), or died (n=2). Following removal, instances of injury or death from multiple male aggression events drastically declined. The removal of these males from the Laysan Island population has contributed to the restoration of a balanced sex ratio and has proven a valuable mitigation strategy.

Single male aggression events have most notably occurred at French Frigate Shoals and more recently at Kure Atoll. Intervention efforts include hazing of identified aggressors, translocating pups from areas where aggressive males frequent, treating injured seals when appropriate and removal of the adult male. The 3 adult males at French Frigate Shoals observed to repeatedly target pups, were translocated to Johnston Atoll (n=2 in 1998) or euthanized (n=1 in 1991). One adult male was brought into permanent captivity in 2013 after he had been observed injuring pups at Kure Atoll. This mitigation strategy effectively reduced pup deaths as a result of adult male aggression at this site.

But here’s the interesting thing. Tracy also reported the actual mating behavior and practices of Hawaiian monk seals is a bit of a mystery. Presumably it takes place in the water, not on land. In the numerous decades of Hawaiian monk seal research, no one on staff with the Hawaiian Monk Seal Science Team has witnessed the actual mating of monk seals. A few non-staff people have reported mating taking place nearshore. But that hasn’t been scientifically confirmed.

To read more about adult male aggression, click here. And if you see a female with fresh wounds on her back, please report it to the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal hotline at 808-651-7668. This will allow the animal’s health to be assessed. If the injuries are severe, she may be treated with antibiotics to prevent the wounds from becoming infected. Then again, Hawaiian monk seals have an amazing natural ability to heal. We’ve seen it time and again.

 

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In the Hawaiian monk seal world, the term “logging” refers to a behavior performed by monk seals when they float on the surface of the ocean–not actively swimming–for extended periods of time. This time of year, it’s a behavior some very pregnant seals may exhibit in the days leading up to their delivery.

In the coming weeks, several females who regularly pup on Kauai may be seen logging in shallow water. Based on their pupping dates last year, these females anticipated due dates are as follows:

  • RK22 – June 22. (Although there’s no sign of her yet.)
  • RK30 – July 1.
  • RK28 – July 13
  • RO28 – July 16
  • RH58 – August 1

Logging by near-term pregnant females is natural behavior in monk seals. However, extended periods of logging can also be symptomatic of underlying health problems. When RK13 was healing from a suspected shark bite, she spent a fair amount of time logging in the shallow water of freshwater canals.

Logging can also be a symptom of toxoplasmosis, a disease that can be deadly to monk seals. Toxo is the number one disease threat to Hawaiian monk seals.

The parasite Toxoplasma gondii is a microscopic, single-cell organism. Just one of their eggs—known as oocysts— is enough to kill a monk seal. A single cat can excrete 145 billion eggs per year in its feces, according to DLNR. It’s a staggering number.

According to this NOAA report, “The parasite that causes ‘toxo’ sexually reproduces in cats, which shed T. gondii eggs into the environment via their feces. The feces of just one cat contains millions of T. gondii eggs that survive in the environment for many months.

“Any warm-blooded animal, including humans, can contract toxoplasmosis by ingesting a single T. gondii egg — and cats are essential for the reproduction and spread of the parasite.”

Since 2001, eleven Hawaiian monk seals have died of toxoplasmosis. Logging is one behavioral symptom. Of the 11 confirmed deaths due to toxo, eight were female. At least, two were pregnant. Unfortunately, once the disease progresses to the point of visual symptoms like logging, it can be too late for veterinarians to help. It’s not an easy death, either. It’s suspected the near-shore logging behavior occurs, because it’s too painful for the seal to haul out on the sand. In the days leading up to RB24‘s death due to toxoplasmosis, she was reported logging in canals on Oahu.

It can seem like a weird thing–how can the feces of pet (and feral) cats kill Hawaiian monk seals? To help explain, NOAA created this infographic and fact sheet. More information about toxoplasmosis can be found here and here.

And if you see a logging seal–whether pregnant or not–please report it to the Hawaiian monk seal hotline at 808-651-7668.

Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 1.38.30 PMScreen Shot 2018-03-26 at 1.38.43 PM

 

 

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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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Monthly Update:
The Kauai team reported 33 individually identified seals in August for a grand total of 295 seal sightings this month. This equates to 9.5 seals sighted and reported each day.

August: 295
July: 414
June: 315
May: 332
April: 302
March: 299

New

  • A pup switch occurred for the first time on 7/20/18. RH58’s pup PK5 was forcefully taken by another mother RO28 who left her female pup PK4 alone on the beach. The Kauai team successfully reunited the correct moms with pups later that day. Another pup switch occurred on 8/2/18 when RH58’s pup PK5 was seen with another mother RK28 who had left her male pup PK3. Again, RH58 was alone but searching and calling for her pup. The Kauai team attempted to reunite the correct mothers to pups on 8/3/18. RK28 quickly took her pup PK3 back, however, RH58 rejected her pup and became aggressive toward him. The pup was left on the beach overnight in hopes that RH58 would reunite naturally. On 8/4/18, RH58’s pup PK5 was again found with RO28 at sunrise. RO28’s pup PK4 was nearby and began calling for her mother, who quickly left PK5 and rejoined PK4 without human interference. A final attempt at re-uniting PK5 with his mother RH58 occurred that morning of 8/4/18, however she continued to be aggressive toward the pup. The Kauai team captured PK5 (now permanent ID of RK58) mid-day on 8/4/18 and transported him to Lihue for USCG C130 transport to Ke Kai Ola for rehab.
  • Three seal pups weaned and were flipper tagged in August.
  • New adult male seal R8HD hauled out on Kauai after being flipper tagged on Molokai earlier this year. It was suspected this seal had been previously tagged, so the Kauai team was asked to scan the seal for a PIT tag, without disturbing the seal. A full scan was performed, no PIT tag was detected.

Updates:

  • The first pup of the year, now weanling RK42, was de-hooked by the Kauai team on 7/28/18. A large j-hook with 5’ of 100 lb test monofilament leader with swivel attached was removed from the right side of the seals mouth. The pup has not been resighted since de-hooking.
  • Bleach markings: No bleaches were applied.
  • Morbillivirus vaccinations: The North Shore pups RKA4 and RKA6 were fully vaccinated against morbillivirus.

Research/Support of PIFSC

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

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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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