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Archive for the ‘RK30’ Category

To the casual beachgoer in Hawaii, one Hawaiian monk seal can look just like the next. What appears to be a male monk seal could be a female, and a “mother and baby” pair may actually be juvenile and a newly-weaned pup tumbling in the shore break. Such mistakes are common in the calls to our hotline.

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 4.47.31 PMBut when someone calls our hotline to report a seal on Kaua‘i that “has something around its neck,” the seal almost always turns out to be a familiar female known as RK30. If there’s one seal that represents the challenges a monk seal faces in her lifetime, it’s RK30. She is the “poster seal” of monk seal threats.

RK30 first made her presence known in a dramatic way, and she hasn’t stopped, hauling out on virtually every beach around Kaua‘i in the more than 18 years since we first spotted her, even pushing through throngs of people in the water and onshore to find a place to rest at busy sites along the South Shore and East Side.

It all started in 2005 when she was first identified by the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, and it was that “thing around her neck” that got everyone’s attention. It was suspected to be entanglement with a piece of thick line. This was in the early days of these kinds of responses in the Main Hawaiian Islands, and a team gathered and boated to a remote beach along Nā Pali Coast. But RK30 wanted nothing to do with their help. She was already a strong, powerful adult, and she quickly evaded our team.

Luckily, our vet at the time, Dr. Bob Braun, was able to get a good look at RK30 and positively confirm that she had been entangled, but—here’s the good news—that she’d already freed herself of the entanglement. It took a while for her to shake loose of the rope, as evidenced by the remaining, dramatic scar. It suggests the line had been around RK30’s neck for some time—long enough to leave a permanent indentation around her neck that, upon first glance, still looks like she’s entangled today. Luckily, RK30 slipped her noose before a deadly infection could set in and kill her.

Looking back, this was our first sign that RK30 is the extreme survivor she’s turned out to be, because the entanglement scar isn’t her only indication of a brush with death. In addition, she has boat propeller scars on her belly and a large scar on her left side from a possible encounter with a large shark. On top of all that, she has a constellation of 13 cookie-cutter shark bite scars on her body.

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 4.47.19 PMRK30’s skill at evading death has helped her species in significant ways—primarily, by adding to the species. To our knowledge, RK30 has birthed at least nine pups. Unfortunately, not all her offspring have survived the way she has. One was lost as a very young pup when a late-season swell washed it out to sea. Another died as a juvenile after ingesting a fishing hook. Her oldest known living offspring is RW06, a female, regularly seen along Kaua‘i’s South Shore and nearing reproductive age.

RK30 was pregnant with another pup (RH38) in 2016 when she was harassed by a man while she was resting out at the ocean’s edge. The man—with a long list of other run-ins with the law—was eventually sentenced to four years in prison by Hawai‘i’s Environmental Court. This was the first conviction under the state’s felony endangered species harassment statue, legislation that was initiated by a few stalwart monk seal supporters and introduced by then-Senator, Gary Hooser in 2010 after a spate of intentional killings of monk seals. A few days after RK30’s encounter with the intoxicated man, she gave birth to a healthy RH38 at one of her regular pupping sites along Nā Pali Coast. And she gave birth to another pup in 2017.

During the more than 13 years we’ve tracked RK30 around Kaua‘i, she’s exhibited some unique behaviors. As tolerant as she generally appears to be around humans, she is no pushover. She’ll bark and lunge at those humans who agitate her. She’s also been witnessed logging just offshore in shallow, calm waters. Too, we’ve received frequent reports of her associating with Green sea turtles—pushing them around, flipping the in the air, gnawing at them. But no reports of her killing or eating one.

We have no doubt that monk seals will continue to surprise us in the future. We just hope it’s not RK30. She’s made enough headlines, although we’d be happy to see her pass on her genes to a half-dozen more or so pups in the remainder of her years.

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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.

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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.

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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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RH38 is back and looking fit!

After 84 days in rehab at Ke Kai Ola (also known as the “Monk Seal Hospital”) on Hawai‘i Island, the yearling monk seal gained nearly 100 pounds. That’s more than a pound a day.

Here’s a video of RH38 exiting her carrier upon her return to Kaua‘i.

And here she is entering the ocean.

When we think of threats to Hawaiian monk seals, we often think of entanglements with marine debris. We think of monk seals ingesting fishhooks. These are the more obvious threats. That is, the ones we can easily see. But there are other threats that require the aid of microscopes to see, and that’s exactly what RH38 was fighting.

Gastrointestinal parasites (tapeworms) are not uncommon in monk seals; however, RH38 was carrying such a heavy load, it had a negative effect on her health.

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This photo of RH38 was taken in July. (PC: J. Thomton)

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This photo of RH38 was taken in July. (PC: J. Thomton)

RH38 was born to RK30 in the spring of 2016 at a remote beach along Napali Coast. At weaning, she was reported to be one of the largest pups of the 2016 season across the state. However, in the ensuing months, as you can see from the photos above, she lost quite a bit of weight. At her release from Ke Kai Ola last week, she topped out at a healthy 185 pounds. What’s more, she’d been de-wormed. She’s now in the perfect condition to go through her first annual molt, which, by the looks of all the green algae growing on her, is likely to happen soon.

When monk seals molt, they do so all at one time, over the course of 10 days to two weeks, spending much of that time conserving energy on the beach.

Since RH38’s about to experience her first molt, she was not outfitted with a telemetry tag that would tell us her whereabouts, because it would simply fall off as soon as the patch of hair and skin holding it in place does.

Ke Kai Ola was recently recognized by NOAA with a “Species in the Spotlight Hero Award” during the “Year of the Monk Seal” for their conservation efforts in helping recover the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Since the hospital opened three years ago, Ke Kai Ola has rehabilitated and released 20 monk seals back into the wild. We are very grateful for their assistance in helping RH38 return to tip-top shape.

As well, we couldn’t move ailing monk seals quickly from Kaua‘i to Hawai‘i Island without the help of the U.S. Coast Guard who, once again, provided a lift for RH38. That’s two airplane flights for this one-and-a-half-year-old monk seal.

 

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Update: RH38

 

HMS_RH38_photo (7) by Laura Grote © The Marine Mammal Center_NOAA permit #18786 (1)

Photo by Laura Grote © The Marine Mammal Center, NOAA permit #18786

In our recent “Field Report, we shared that RH38, a yearling female, had been observed steadily losing weight over the summer. On August 11, she was transported by a US Coast Guard C-130 to Kona, where she is being rehabilitated at Ke Kai Ola, the Hawaiian monk seal hospital.

As you may recall, RH38 was born to RK30 last year, our first birth of 2016.

When RH38 was admitted to Ke Kai Ola, she weighed 88 pounds, about half her size at weaning a year prior. It’s not unusual for monk seal weaners to lose weight as they learn how to forage on their own, but, clearly, RH38’s weight had dropped more so than other yearlings her age. An exam performed at Ke Kai Ola revealed RH38 was carrying a heavy infestation of tapeworms. Intestinal parasites are not uncommon in monk seals, but have been documented to inhibit growth and even cause death in young Hawaiian monk seals. After treatment, RH38 is now eating well and gaining weight a good clip. She’s expected to be released from Ke Kai Ola’s care in the next couple months.

“This is why we built Ke Kai Ola,” said Dr. Shawn Johnson, Director of Veterinary Science at the Marine Mammal Center, on the Center’s website. “If we want to save this species, every monk seal female counts, so we’re proud to be able to provide long-term rehabilitative care to monk seals like RH38 and ensure they are able to survive and thrive in their ocean home.”

HMS_RH38_photo (8) by Laura Grote © The Marine Mammal Center_NOAA permit #18786

Photo by Laura Grote © The Marine Mammal Center, NOAA permit #18786

Because RH38 will be released back into the Main Hawaiian Island population, where there’s a good chance she may encounter humans, the staff at Ke Kai Ola is taking great precaution in treating RH38 so that she does not associate humans with food. We want all our monk seals to continue to be the wild animals they are.

Click here to read more about the great work that Ke Kai Ola is doing with Hawaiian monk seals and other pinnipeds.

We’ll continue to report on RH38’s progress, so check back periodically.

 

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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

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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

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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.

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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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What’s better than one pup? It’s two! The day after RK22 gave birth, another reliable mother, RK30 also pupped. This one, we know, is a male. Here are a few pictures of the one-week-old pup, known as PK2.

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