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Field Report: Winter 2016

Field Report: Winter 2016

For the first four months of 2016, a total of 1,094 seal sightings were logged via the Hawai‘i Monk Seal hotline on Kaua‘i. This breaks down to:

  • January: 286
  • February: 227
  • March: 289
  • April: 292

March Seal Deaths: Two seals were lost in March. On Kaua`i, RG13 a yearling female, was found dead in the Lihi Canal in Kapa`a. Also, RT12, born on Kauai, a 6-year old male that had been living on O‘ahu was found washed up dead. Carcasses were collected and investigated by law enforcement and biologists, and then thoroughly examined by marine mammal veterinarians . Tissues were sent for further investigation for cause of death, as nothing was found on gross necropsy. Both RG13 and RT12 were seen healthy and behaving normally days before death, and they were in good body condition. Each necropsy indicated acute death and histopathology results provided no indication of disease or injury. Inconclusive results such as these are challenging, however one likely cause that is of great concern is acute death by entrapment underwater causing wet, not dry drowning.

Seal of Behavioral Concern, R1KY: Mid April, a young adult female R1KY, originally from Ni’ihau and primarily sighted at Salt Ponds and Poipu, suddenly started to swim with snorkelers and the many swimmers at Poipu county beach park. Previously she was very social with other seals of varying ages. With no seals around, she began following swimmers in the water and onto shore with an avid and unsafe interest for her and the public. R1YK’s behavior could escalate into “seal play” or mating behavior of biting and holding people down in the water. NOAA and DLNR coordinators, researchers, and managers have been in discussions and have implemented a plan. If you see R1KY (she has a bleach mark on her back “V01” and also a red tag on the left rear flipper 1KY) appear between Sheraton and Brennekes beach, please report her to the hotline (808-651- 7668) . Remember! If a seal is swimming among people DO NOT call people out of the water or bring attention to the seal, as this may cause panic and a possible drowning.

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2012 Year in Review: 2,556 individual seal sightings were reported in 2012 (many of the same animals on different days of course), or an average of 7 seals per day!  This was only possible due to the incredible efforts of the volunteer network.  The Kauai Monk Seal Conservation Hui identified 45 different seals on the beaches of Kauai during 2012, including 4 pups that were born on the beaches of Kauai in 2012.


Pupping Predictions for 2013!  Here are the predictions for 2013 provided by the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center staff.  There were several regular ‘moms’ that skipped 2012 (R015, R305, RY30, RS00, R006) so they can pup anytime and likely will pup earlier in the year rather than later. We could also be seeing some first time moms this year.

Seal ID Island Predicted Date
RQ21 Molokai 3/29
RV06 Molokai 3/31
RI15 Molokai 4/26
RK13 Kauai 5/9
RK22 Kauai 5/13
RH58 Kauai 6/4
RK30 Kauai 6/10
RO20 Oahu 6/28
RH44 Molokai 7/11
R308 Molokai 7/23
RO17 Molokai 8/5
RV16 Kahoolawe 7/7
R912 Oahu 8/9
R5AY Oahu 9/10

Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) Research on Kauai:

instrumented-sealThe Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) joined the Kauai crew in January for field work that included flipper tagging TempV19 (juvenile male) who is now tagged 8HY on the left rear flipper and 8HZ on right flipper.  His official ID is now R8HY.  Also, RW02 (adult male) was instrumented with a National Geographic Critter Cam which recorded 5 days of foraging and diving behavior (see photo below).  Click on this link to learn more about this program.

http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/hawaiian_monk_seal/news_and_highlights.php#article_20130901_001

Stranding Responses to Hooked Seals:

As some of you may have heard, two seals were hooked with Ulua circle hooks in Hawaiian waters during February, one was a juvenile male RT12 here on Kauai.

RT12 was successfully de-hooked twice and released back in the wild.  Here is how it played out.  Thanks to an early report from one of our lead volunteers, we found RT12 hauled out with a circle hook in his mouth and 8 feet of fishing line trailing from it.  A team was immediately dispatched and RT12 was captured and hook removal attempted, however the hook went through the bottom side of the tongue with the barb imbedded in it.  This made either sedation or surgery necessary, therefore we loaded RT12 into a transport cage, brought him to Lihue where he spent the night at the baseyard until a veterinary team arrived from Oahu the next morning.  After sedating RT12, we found that the hook had now gone all the way through the tongue and into the left cheek.  The hook was cut in half, and easily backed out of the tongue and cheek.  The damaged tissue was swollen and slightly infected, but in good condition. It appeared that the hook was in his tongue for 24 to 36 hours, we were very fortunate to catch it so soon.

A satellite tracking tag was attached to track his dive behavior and movement.  RT12 was also given an antibiotic injection and then released.  Another lead volunteer sighted him sleeping comfortably on the rocks just south of the release location later that day.

hooked-t12To our great surprise, one week later, RT12 was discovered with another hook in his mouth!   A volunteer reported seeing 4-5’ of fine monofilament line coming from the mouth of RT12 again! Can you find the fishing line??

With the excellent assistance of many volunteers, the coordinators were authorized to mobilize an assessment team and equipment to capture, restrain, dehook and potentially transport the seal. Once we caught RT12, we found and removed one ”J” hook from his left front flipper. Unfortunately when we examined his mouth we discovered the additional line coming from his mouth with the hook out of sight, requiring sedation and surgical intervention to remove it.

Once more, RT12 was loaded into the transport cage to be watched overnight at the DLNR baseyard by the coordinators.  On the morning of Feb. 13, Dr. Michelle Barbieri arrived from Oahu and helped us transport RT12 to a local Veterinary Clinic on Kauai.  Under general anesthesia, radiographs revealed another one inch “J” hook in the esophagus.  With an endoscope, special instruments, and the expertise of two veterinarians, the hook was removed and RT12 was given antibiotics and his right rear flipper tagged T43 (he lost his T13 last year).  An hour later, RT12 was released again.

We are all very happy that this seal was discovered early and his ingested hook was removed, may he never again swallow another hook!  It is with much appreciation, that we thank all who work so hard to monitor and care for each of these endangered Hawaiian monk seals when they rest on our beaches.  It takes all of us working together for a bright future that we can share together.

hooked-seal-xrayThe other hooking had a less fortunate ending.  A juvenile male, RK68, from the Big Island died from ingesting a circle hook.  The links below provide the details:

http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/20971940/monk-seal-dies-after-swallowing-fish-hook

http://www.kitv.com/news/hawaii/Officials-Monk-seal-death-was-painful-preventable/-/8905354/18425672/-/96yfrpz/-/index.html

http://www.khon2.com/content/news/developingstories/story/Hawaiian-monk-seal-dies-after-ingesting-fishing/phINPPcsMESYPmbicdj3Bw.cspx

Annual Seal Molting:  Winter is the season that most male Hawaiian monk seal’s molt.  At this time their testosterone levels are low and mature males undergo their annual molt. Both the hair and the epidermis are sloughed and replaced in this “catastrophic molt” that is similar to elephant seals, but unlike all other seals.  In the Hawaiian monk seal the actual observed molting period is about 10 days when the seal is seen ashore before and after the hair-skin sloughing period. The actual physiological process is probably much longer, and is a metabolically demanding time requiring the seal to rest long periods on shore and fast, that is why it is important to allow monk seals to rest peacefully while molting.  Also, documenting the timing and duration of molt is a good indicator for a seal’s health.

In the last two months, mature male seals R018 and RK31 molted primarily on the south shore, and for several days together at Poipu Beach Park, requiring extensive volunteer efforts to monitor and protect these seals.  Much outreach and education happened as well, while many visitors standing downwind of the seal noticed the strong “stinky” smell, due to the molt!  We so appreciate all the many essential volunteers that assisted to adjust the seal protection zones (SPZ’s) as the seals moved from the vegetation early in the morning down to the wave wash to thermoregulate in the day’s heat and back up to the vegetation line to spend the night!

Photo credit: Lynn Nowatzki

Photo credit: Lynn Nowatzki

RK31 90% molted (Molt  is estimated by % of molted skin remaining. Molt starts from the face and belly where it is rubbed off first).  Notice also circular pink wound from a fresh cookie cutter shark bite over the left hip.

Many people notice that the Hawaiian monk seals are different colors.  Freshly molted seals are a silvery gray with a lighter gray ventrally.  Some seals may be stained red by red dirt, more often seen in young juveniles that haul out to rest and hide on dirt and rock beaches. With time pelage ages to darker brown and hues of green appear around the face and flippers due to algae growth!  See in the photo below three males of various ages that are different colors due to when they molted.  RV18 is an adult that molted March 2012, RW02 is a subadult that molted Sept. 2012, and R8HY is a juvenile that just molted Jan.2013.

Photo credit: Gary Langley

Photo credit: Gary Langley

lloyd-miyashiro

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Photo credit: S. Johnson

RK54, the male weaned seal born at North Larsen’s in April of this year, had a plastic ring around his muzzle on October 11, preventing him from eating normally.   Our team was able to remove the ring and check the muzzle for injuries.  Thanks to our volunteers and members of the public who helped with this important response – go team!!

We have had several sightings of T21M, an adult male seal from

Photo credit: D. Lee

Laysan in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  He was relocated to the main Hawaiian islands in 1994, and was recently flipper tagged 7GY/7GZ and fitted with a cell phone tag on Oahu.  He was most recently seen at Lawai Kai in the National Tropical Botanical Gardens!

Photo credit: M. Miyashiro

RB14 (four-year-old female) and RA16 (two-year-old male) had a molting party on the east side again this year!  RA16 has now successfully molted.

RK56 (weaner male, born at Miloli’i in May 2011 to RK30) has been very curious with humans in shallow water for the past week at Ke’e Beach, at the end of the road on the north shore.  He has been observed following snorkelers, and checking out children face-to-face in the very shallow water.  This is dangerous behavior for RK56 and for the people near him.  As a newly weaned seal, he is curious and nonaggressive.  However, if humans reinforce this behavior (with food or play), he will begin to expect and demand the reinforcement, and could become aggressive to those who don’t behave the way he expects them to.  Also, as he grows, he will become larger and stronger; and hormonal changes will cause him to exhibit new behaviors that will certainly be dangerous to his human playmates. We would like to monitor RK56 very closely. If you see him please report it to our Kauai Monk Seal Sighting Hotline at 808-651-7668, keep your distance, and encourage others to do the same.

RK13 (flipper tags 5AA/5AB) is an adult female with a chronic lesion on her rump.  RK13 has had a “lump” since 2008, but it has recently swelled, likely become infected, burst, and begun to slough. We are prepared to send a team to sample and medicate her, but presently the lesion seems to be subsiding on its own.  This, combined with the possibility that she is pregnant, warrant the need to evaluate very carefully before handling her.   For now, we are closely monitoring the progress of the lesion.  If you see her, please report her to the hotline, photograph her full body and the lesion, and email photos the same day to 
kauaiseals@gmail.com.

UPDATE to Field Report: August/September 2011

Juvenile male seal RT12was seen on August 30 with a small hook in the skin of his belly, between his umbilicus and his

Photo credit: M. Bane

penile opening.  At that time, the hook had a red transparent lure and about 3 feet of fine monofilament attached.  He was observed a few days later with only a few inches of line remaining. He has now been seen several times with no hook or line!

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Field Notes: Nov/Dec 2010

Happy New Year from the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui!!  It’s been a busy time of year for us and the seals!

R6FY, a juvenile male first sighted in July 2010, was seen several times in November around PMRF.  He looks thin and close to molting – very green.  When Hawaiian monk seals molt, they lose their entire outer layer of skin and fur.  Scientists have found that the seals also have elevated levels of stress hormones during this once-a-year event.  He was observed several times 
to be exhibiting an interesting behavior – kind of a repeated “swallowing” 
as he fell asleep after stirring.  R6FY does not seem to be in distress, nor does he appear to have any obstructions to eating or breathing.  We are not alarmed about this little guy, but are certainly keeping close eye on him.  If you see him, please photograph him; take a good look at his body for molting, which usually starts around the face and other extremities; and report him to us immediately.

We had several sightings this fall of a large untagged female seal on the north shore, with bleach mark V23.  Bleach marks are applied to the fur of Hawaiian monk seals so that we can identify them from a distance.  The mark is made with the same kind of hair bleach we humans use, and we are specially trained and permitted to apply the bleach without even waking up the seal!  She has had this bleach number for the past year, and since she molted, Mimi re-applied it in November.  V23 did roll onto her fresh bleach, but her mark seems to have stuck, as she was sighted recently as “V23.”

Our youngest seals, RT12 and RA36, have been seen quite frequently at Larsen’s and Aliomanu beaches, respectively.   We have even had a couple of sightings of an untagged male weaned pup on the 
east side in the past couple of months.  We suspect that this is RK30’s latest Miloli’i pup, born on April 17, 2010, but since we were never able to flipper-tag him, we can’t be sure.  Mimi was able to bleach him in December – now he
is V014!  All are looking very healthy.

Still no new pup!  In mid-December, after getting a good look at expectant mom RK12 in person, we predict that she will not likely give birth until January. Nonetheless, we have had the “maternity truck” packed and ready to go for over a week, and we’ve been keeping an eye on RK12’s usual birth sites.

As a holiday gift to everyone from the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center’s Monk Seal Research Program, here is some of the exciting information we are learning from the cell phone tags applied to four seals in 2010!  These tags are helping us understand how the seals in the main Hawaiian islands use their habitat.  Enjoy!

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RT12 has his Hawaiian name!  He is Kimo Kai, or “Sleepy Ocean”, named by (and after) vacationing volunteer Jim Maser when RT12 was just a couple of weeks old.   After checking with our Hawaiian cultural practitioners, we have now made it official!

Mahalo-eha (RA36) has been spotted back at his natal beach, Maha’ulepu!

Hawaiian monk seals

Photo credit: Michele Bane

Love is in the air for Kauai’s seals!  We have seen lots of male-female pairs hauled out, entering, and exiting the water together lately.  Some of these included large adult female RK13 with Oahu/Kauai male RO18; scarred female RK30 with our old, dominant male TT40, seven-time mom RK12 with young adult male R4DI, and Oahu male Kermit (RO12) with an unidentified female.   Even little juvenile Kaikoa (RA00) has been seen several times with subadult male RV18, though this pair is too young to mate!

Kermit (RO12), as mentioned above, has returned to Kauai.  But check out what he was doing this summer!!  He had a 2000-mile journey into the pelagic (open-ocean) realm!

Hawaiian monk seal journey

Back on the east shore of Kauai, Kermit lost his cell-phone tag. Thanks to one of our observant and thorough volunteers finding the tag in the sand, we can now learn more about Kermit’s adventure and reuse his tag to track another seal!

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Pup-watch has ended for RT12!  He has still been sighted frequently at Larsen’s beach, but has also left the area for several days at a time.  Keep your eyes peeled for this little roly-poly – he’s still vulnerable to learning the wrong way to coexist with people on the beach!!

The “unidentified” adult male seal fitted with a cell-phone tag last month turns out to be RO18, a known seal who often travels back and forth between Kauai and Oahu.  He went straight back to Oahu after being tagged on Kauai, but returned to Kauai for most of July and spent his time here with adult female RK13.  Previously thought to be pregnant, RK13 is now showing appearance and behavior cues indicating otherwise.

Adult female 5AY, previously expected to pup on Kauai this summer, had a pup on Oahu instead!  We may not have any more Kauai newborns until winter!

Mahalo-eha (RA36) has still been hanging out on the east shore, and one day this month decided to haul out right onto the Fuji Beach boat ramp!  This is not a safe place for a seal to rest!  Mahalo-eha is still in the impressionable life stage during which he could either learn to be a wild seal, or to be a human-friendly seal.   If he learns that it is a positive thing to approach humans, then he will be attracted to his own greatest threats:  boats, propellers, hooks, nets, and people who don’t realize how special monk seals are. Dr. Mimi Olry used special equipment and aversive conditioning techniques to discourage him from resting on the boat ramp, for his and the public’s safety.  Please note that changing the behavior of a Hawaiian monk seal is against state and federal law without the proper permits, which Dr. Olry has.

Pohaku (RO28) has been spending quite a bit of time on the island at Poipu Beach Park – every day for the past 2 weeks!  She may be getting ready to molt, or she may just be repeating her typical behavior of finding and sticking to a favorite resting spot!

The PIFSC monk seal research team visited Kauai this month, hoping to fit more seals with cell-phone tags to study their movements and dive behavior.  The criteria for this procedure are pretty strict:  the seal must be hauled out in a sandy spot safe for restraint. It must be restrained during the cooler parts of the day.   The seal cannot be too young, too small, pregnant, nursing, molting, near-molting, or otherwise already stressed.  These criteria are all for the seals’ health and safety.  Our team encountered quite a few seals on this trip, but unfortunately only one fit all the criteria: adult male RK02.  Even more unfortunately for the team, RK02 is a clever seal who eluded the researchers not once but TWICE!  He made a run for the water both times.   Better luck next time, PIFSC!

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T12 wakes up from a nap just long enough to scratch his face.

Our first Kauai pup of the year, male RT12, is weaned, tagged, chubby, healthy, and exploring.  He has found some companionship in adult male RK02; they are often hauled out on the beach together.

T12 shows off his new bling.

Our second pup is also weaned and healthy.  He is also a confirmed male!  This little boy was too busy playing in the water to get tagged at our last attempt, so keep your eyes out for a relatively short and fat untagged pup!  We would love another opportunity to tag him before he grows up and begins to look like so many other young seals around the island!

‘Tis the season for more pups, too!  Females RK13, Temp 365, R5AY, and large unidentified female with a distinctive white “chin” area are all likely pregnant and pupping this summer!

Momona (RA20) and Noho (RA16) both celebrated their first birthdays this month, and both seals were spotted on their respective birthdays!  It’s wonderful to see these kids growing up healthy!!

Mahalo-eha (RA36), our 7-month-old Maha’ulepu pup, has been hanging out along the east shore these days, often seen at Nukoli’i and Fuji Beaches.

One unidentified adult male seal was fitted with a cell-phone tag by the NOAA PIFSC team on June 9, 2010.  The tag records GPS data and depth to help us understand the seals’ movement and foraging behavior. The seal also now has flipper tags 6FA/6FB, and his tag tells us that he headed straight for Oahu after receiving his tag.

RO28 has received her Hawaiian name: she is “Pohaku“, which means “rock.”  Pohaku frequently hauls out in the rocky areas around Poipu.  She is also a “rock” for our monk seal population – a healthy female, and daughter of RK06, another beloved strong female seal.

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