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Sadly, on April 1, 2020, after a 10-week-long battle with toxoplasmosis, a deadly parasitic disease, the adult female seal RO28 passed away.

Also known as “Pōhaku,” RO28 was 14 years old, in the midst of her prime reproductive years, when she died. She was born on Kauai’s north shore in 2006 to RK06. (RK06 was tragically shot to death while she was carrying a full-term pup. The pup did not survive the shooting.)

Over the years, RO28 has made her fair share of appearances on these virtual pages. Throughout her life, she gave birth to seven pups, the first six of which she pupped and raised until weaning along the same stretch of coastline on Kauai’s north shore where she was born. (It’s not uncommon for females to pup near their own birth site.) However, RO28 spent her recent years on the island of Oahu, only returning to Kauai to give birth.

Here’s a recap of what we know about RO28’s life:

  • In her early adolescent years, RO28 spent much of her time hauling out on rocks along the Poipu coastline.
  • On Good Friday in 2010, she was successfully de-hooked.
  • She was first sighted on Oahu at Kaena Point during the 2010 Semi-Annual Hawaiian Monk Seal Count. She was re-sighted twice shortly thereafter, once with a fresh cookie cutter shark bite on her back.
  • In 2013, RO28 gave birth to RN30 who has traveled to Oahu and has been regularly sighted on Kauai’s north shore.
  • In 2014, RO28 gave birth to RF28 who has ventured to Niihau and is also commonly reported along the Poipu coastline.
  • In 2015, RO28 gave birth to RG28 who often hauls out on Kauai’s South Shore. This birth was miraculously captured on video by one of our volunteers.
  • In 2016, RO28 gave birth to RH80 who regularly circumnavigates Kauai.
  • In 2017, RO28 gave birth to RJ28 who can be found on beaches on Kauai’s north shore and east side.
  • In 2018, RO28 gave birth to RKA4 who was last sighted at Kipu Kai.

In 2018, RO28 and two other mothers pupped near each other, resulting in multiple pup-switching incidents. This occurs in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands where more females are pupping on fewer suitable habitat. RO28 was successfully reunited with RKA4; however, one of the other moms, RH58, also known as “Rocky” eventually showed aggressive behavior toward her pup, and he was rescued by NOAA and successfully raised and eventually released back to the wild.

RO28 pupped on Oahu last year and weaned her pup. Unfortunately, the pup tragically died some time thereafter. NOAA reported, “The circumstances surrounding her death indicate that she did not die of natural causes.”

The loss of RO28 makes thirteen known deaths due to toxoplasmosis.

The first documented monk seal death due to toxoplasmosis occurred in 2001. That number has now risen to at least 13 monk seals, making it a leading threat to the main Hawaiian Islands population. Because seals disappear and die without being discovered, the actual number of deaths caused by toxoplasmosis is likely much higher. Unfortunately, the data indicates more females die than males, presenting another challenge to recovery of the species. According to NOAA Fisheres, “Every lost female means that her future pups, and their future pups, are lost to the world.”

What’s unique about RO28’s case is she was only the third monk seal with toxoplasmosis to be rescued alive. While the other two passed away within 48 hours, veterinarians and care-givers were able to work with RO28 for 10 weeks. During that time, she showed improvement at times, providing science with invaluable information that will, hopefully, one day allow for successful medical care for toxo-infected 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.”

The loss of RO28 is yet another reason to keep cats indoors to protect cats and Hawaii’s native wildlife. Please.

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

 

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RO28 and pup 2Twelve years ago, Kauai’s newest mom, RO28, was born in nearly the same spot she gave birth last week. While monk seals tend to have unique personalities and proclivities, it’s not uncommon for females to return to their natal beach sites when it’s their time to give birth. In fact, RO28 has pupped along the same stretch of coastline for six years in a row.

What’s more unique than that is the fact that RO28’s six pups are all still alive.

With all the threats facing Hawaiian monk seals–entanglements in marine debris, ingested fish hooks, intentional harm by humans, and the growing threat of toxoplasmosis–somehow all of RO28’s six pups have, thus far, evaded them all.

Point of note: RO28’s mother was RK06 who was shot by a fisherman in 2009. Even RO28 herself has run into some challenges. In 2010, she turned up with a fishhook in her mouth. Shortly after it was removed, she crossed the 100-mile open ocean channel to Oahu where she spends most of her time–until it’s time to give birth. Then, she makes the return journey to her natal site. Within a few days of arriving, she pups. The timing is impressive.

Here’s a recap of RO28’s pupping history:

  • In 2013, RO28 gave birth to RN30 who has recently traveled to Oahu
  • In 2014, RO28 gave birth to RF28 who now hangs out at Niihau
  • In 2015, RO28 gave birth to RG28 who often hauls out on Kauai’s South Shore. This birth was captured on video by one of our volunteers and can be seen here.
  • In 2016, RO28 gave birth to RH80 who regularly circumnavigates Kauai
  • In 2017, RO28 gave birth to RJ28 who can be found on beaches on Kauai’s North Shore and East Side

 

And, as always, if you’d like to volunteer with the Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui on Kauai, please email kauaiseals@gmail.com. And if you run across any seals on the beach, please take a quick health assessment and report any sightings to the hotline–808-651-7668.

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(P)update #41

It’s been a little over two weeks since RH92 was tagged. She has been busy exploring up and down the coastline near where she was born, and she’s been making a few friends, too–there’s Temp325, RN44, RN30, 3CU, RK05, RV18 and even recently de-hooked RF28 sporting a tracking device on his back. We have not witnessed her eat any sea cucumbers, as many weaners inevitably do, but she has tried seaweed. Basically, she’s just being a wild monk seal and doing a good job of it, at that.

Here are a few photos of her escapades.

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Photo credit: G. Langley

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Photo credit: G. Langley

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Photo credit: G. Langley

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Photo credit: G. Langley

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Photo credit: G. Langley

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Photo credit: G. Langley

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Field Report: June

Updates for our Kauai seals and pups.

RK30 weaned her pup, PK1. This pup most likely nursed 49 to 50 days, making this a very big pup. On Monday, June 27th, she was tagged and vaccinated and is now, officially, RH38, (tags H38/ H39).

Milolii pup (ScubaTomPhotography)2

RH38

RK22 weaned her pup, PK2, on Sunday, July 2, after 41 days of nursing.

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PK2 (Photo credit: G. Langley)

RO28 arrived from Oahu and pupped, PK3 on June 15. Both are doing well.

RO28 and PK3-3-2

PK3’s first recorded nursing bout with RO28.

Vaccinating seals on Kauai.

The Kauai coordinators are in the process of vaccinating Kauai seals against Morbillivirus, a disease that causes measles in humans and distemper in dogs. To protect our rare Hawaiian monk seals, the first ever vaccination of wild seals has been initiated, as epidemics of this deadly virus have devastated other seal species populations around the world. So far, 13 Kauai seals have received their initial vaccination and some their second booster shot. We are now earnestly looking to booster several male seals, and volunteers can assist us by looking out for RF28 ( red tags, and transmitter on his back, on the north and east sides of Kauai), and N1AA (black tags on the south and west sides of the island). Also, RN30, R8HY subadult males found primarily on the east side often Ahukini cove.
Here is a video of how seals are vaccinated. We will put out a list as time goes on, to identify which seals we are looking for to booster in the 3-5 week window and would truly appreciate assistance in looking for them.

RF28 and RF30 released and doing well.

On May 27, RF28, a juvenile male seal, was found with an ingested hook that was successfully removed on Oahu by a veterinary team. He was soon released back on Kauai with a transmitter on June 2.

RF28(MaryFrances)

RF28 (Photo credit: M. Miyashiro)

RF28 locations

Dive data RF28

A week later, we were surprised to find another internally hooked seal, RF30, a juvenile female! She was located at the Poipu county beach park keiki pool where she was logging and acting strangely. A team was assembled for a water capture using fence panels and crowding boards. This challenging capture was successful due to our many fine volunteers that rallied on a very short notice. Without volunteers to find and assist with capturing these injured seals, none of these successes would be possible! We supremely need and appreciate all our volunteers! RF30 was also transported to Oahu by a US Coast Guard C-130. She was found to have some swelling in the throat where the hook was lodged and at the base of the tongue. It was successfully removed using an endoscope and specially designed tools. Four days later RF30 was flown back to Kauai and released on the east side of the island where she normally resides. Both seals are fitted with satellite tags that are solar powered.

RF30 release (MaryFrances)2

RF30 (Photo credit: M. Miyashiro)

RF30 locations

Dive data RF30

Tag (LloydMiyashiro)

Photo credit: L. Miyashiro

Other marine species:
News from NOAA Fisheries Sea turtle program. If you see a honu or ‘ea on the beach or in the water, please remember:

  • View sea turtles from a distance of 10 feet (3 meters). In Hawai‘i, we view turtles respect- fully. Give turtles space and don’t feed, chase, or touch them.
    Hawaiian honu bask on the beach. This is normal behavior. Don’t try to
    push them back into the water.
  • “It’s OK to help!” Fishermen, check your gear often, use barbless circle hooks and adhere to state gillnet rules. If safe for both you and the turtle, release accidentally caught turtles by fol- lowing these steps:
  1. REEL-IN the turtle carefully
  2. HOLD by its shell or flippers
  3. CUT LINE as close to the hook as possible, and
  4. RELEASE with no (or as little) gear or line attached.
  • “No white light at night.” Use wildlife friendly lighting near the coast (yellow/amber and shielded lights). Don’t use flash photography, and keep lights and beach fires to a minimum from May to December, when turtles are nesting hatchlings are emerging.
  • Avoid beach driving. Off-road vehicles crush nests, create tire ruts that trap hatchlings, and degrade habitats. Driving on the beach is also illegal in most areas.
    Prevent debris and rubbish from entering the ocean. Participate in beach and reef cleanup activities.
  • Report all hawksbill sea turtle sightings, any nesting activity (turtle tracks or nest digging), and injured or dead turtles to NOAA’s Sea Turtle Stranding Hotline on Kaua‘i: (808) 274-3344.
  • Report illegal or suspicious activity that may result in turtle injury or death by calling the Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) at
    (808) 587-0077 or 643-DLNR.

 

 

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