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Archive for the ‘RK30’ 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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Another one of Kauai’s regular “puppers” has added to the Hawaiian Monk Seal population.

PK3’s arrival was reported to the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui last Wednesday, July 10th. It’s not unusual for tour boat captains and kayak outfitters to alert us to new pups born in remote locations. This report came from Captain Rob. He also provided a photo, and in it, you can also see–if you squint really well–the remains of the afterbirth on the beach below the pup. This is a good indication the pup is quite young, maybe just hours old.

PK3 + K30

But the photo didn’t positively identify the mother. Based on the date and location (not identified here for the safety of the mom and pup); however, that narrowed the mother down to a couple suspected seals. Well, one, in particular.

Because the pupping site is in such a remote location, neither one of our NOAA/DLNR officials nor any of Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui volunteers were able to immediately respond to identify the mother. However, thanks to the work of one volunteer who is adept at searching social media, we now know the mother in question is none other than RK30.

It was one particular scar that confirmed RK30’s identity as the mother of PK3, as seen in an Instagram photo, that allowed her to be identified. The scar was that of an old entanglement wound from a line (rope) that once encircled her neck.

RK30 is somewhere around 20 years of age, give or take a year. She’s also one of the most storied monk seals around, having survived many threats to her life. Read more about RK30 here.

This is RK30’s 11th known pup.

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PC: @tripoverthings

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PC: @tripoverthings

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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.

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Every month, anywhere from 30 to 38 individual Hawaiian monk seals are reported to the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui. But just who are these regulars? Here’s a look at the top ten most reported Hawaiian monk seal sightings on Kauai this year to date.

Keep in mind, many things affect this list. Monk seals often have favorite haul out locations. If a monk seal favors a location that happens to be easily accessible by humans, bingo, that seal will be reported more often to the hotline.

Then, of course, monk seal moms and their pups rack up a high number of reported sightings, because they stick to the same beach for weeks on end. As this list will also reveal, young monk seals–especially sub-adult males–are often sighted and reported, too.

  1. With 83 sightings, adult R7GM tops the list of most reported monk seal sightings on Kauai this year.  A female, it appears R7GM may be pregnant for the first time. If she pups on Kauai, her chances skyrocket for remaining at the top of this list for 2019.
  2. With 81 sightings, R3CX ranks second for the most reported monk seal sightings on Kauai. R3CX is a five-year-old male commonly seen roughhousing with other young males on Poipu Beach.
  3. With 65 sightings, RG58 ranks third for the most reported monk seal sightings on Kauai. RG58 is a four-year-old male who also prefers the busy beaches of Poipu. His mother is the renown RH58, also known as Rocky.
  4. With 56 sightings, RB00 ranks fourth for the most reported monk seal sightings on Kauai. The year’s first report of RB00 came two days before she gave birth. She nursed for 54 days and immediately left Kauai after weaning her pup. Recently, RB00 was sighted on Maui. RB00 also counts Rocky as her mother.
  5. With 53 sightings, RK52, yet another offspring of the prolific Rocky, ranks fifth on our list. She provided us with Kauai’s second pup of the year. She nursed for 36 days.
  6. With 53 sightings, RN44 ranks sixth for the most reported monk seal sightings on Kauai this year. He is a healthy six-year-old male, frequently sighted on his natal beach on the North Shore of the island. His mother is also Rocky.
  7. With 52 sightings, RL08 is the grandson of Rocky. He was born to RB00 earlier this year and nursed for a whopping 54 days.
  8. With 50 sightings, RK58 ranks eighth for the most reported monk seal sightings on Kauai this year. Another pup of Rocky’s, RK58 was abandoned by his mother in 2018 and spent several months in rehab at Ke Kai Ola before being released back on Kauai.
  9. With 41 sightings, RK30 ranks ninth for the most reported monk seal sightings on Kauai this year. RK30 is pushing 20 years of age. She’s also one of the most storied monk seals around, having survived many threats to her life. Read more about RK30 here.
  10. With 40 sightings, RG22 ranks tenth for the most reported monk seal sightings on Kauai this year. RG22 is another four-year-old male who loves to roughhouse with the boys at Poipu.

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

RH38 at Ke Kai Ola. Photo credit: L. Grote.

Last summer, when she was then one year old, RH38  started steadily losing weight. In August, she was transported by a US Coast Guard C-130 to Kona where she was examined by the team at Ke Kai Ola. RH38 was born to RK30 in 2016 and nursed for 50 days. She was the first Kauai seal to be treated at the Hawaiian monk seal hospital on Hawaii Island.

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RH38 in July 2017 before her visit to Ke Kai Ola. Photo credit: J. Thomton.

At Ke Kai Ola, it was discovered RH38 was heavily infested with tapeworms. Intestinal parasites are not uncommon in monk seals, and have been documented to inhibit growth and even cause death in young Hawaiian monk seals. After fattening up–from 88 lbs on entrance to 185 lbs at release–RH38 was flown back to Kauai last November. Shortly thereafter, she began the first of her annual molts.

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Since then, RH38 has behaved like a normal wild seal–and that’s good news especially whenever a seal is treated by humans. If a seal habituates to humans, they might start to interact with them in ways that are dangerous for the human as well as the seal.

At two-and-a-half years old, RH38 is regularly seen hauling out up and down the coastline along Kauai’s eastside. And as the buildup of green algae on the pictures below (taken today) indicate, she looks like she’s heading for her second annual molt in the coming months.

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RH38. Photo credit: L. Miyashiro.

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RH38. Photo credit: L. Miyashiro.

Earlier this summer, Kauai’s second seal headed to Ke Kai Ola for rehab. RK58, born to RH58, was not quite three weeks old when he was flown to Hawaii Island. (Read here to learn more about the unusual reason why he was sent to rehab.) RK58 is now learning how to catch live fish and will be returned to Kauai in the coming weeks. As with RH38, it’s absolutely vital that RK58 does not interact with humans upon his return, so he can live a long and wild seal life. We’ll share more about RK58 in the coming weeks.

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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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