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PK1 will make four weeks old this Thursday. In that time, she’s grown and grown. She’s swimming for longer and longer periods of time, and she’s holding her breath for greater amounts of time. On the beach, in addition to her size, what’s evident is she’s starting to molt her natal coat.

All the while, Mom is still looking quite large. The question now is just how long RB00 will hang around before weaning her pup. 

Here’s a photo review of the growth of PK1:

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On May 13, a Malama Na Honu volunteer called the hotline at dusk to report a large female green sea turtle hauling onto the beach was entangled with a fishing lure. Photos revealed a large orange bobber with trailing monofilament line was cutting into the turtle’s right fore-flipper. Unfortunately, it was too late in the day–too dark–to respond. Based on the photos, NOAA’s Marine Turtle Stranding Program determined intervention was likely necessary.

PC: C. Keesee

On May 18, the turtle was sighted again, this time without the bobber. But a deep wound remained and monofilament line was encircling and strangulating the flipper. It was determined that surgery was needed to treat the wound and save the limb. NOAA’s Marine Turtle Stranding Program organized transport to the Maui Ocean Center where radiographs revealed a pathological fracture, requiring amputation of the flipper. Follow-up care and rehabilitation should result in the eventual release of this turtle. Amazingly, sea turtles adjust to missing a flipper and can swim and move on the beach with three flippers.

This past weekend a visitor reported a basking turtle with a fishing lure and two small treble hooks caught on the neck of a large honu. It was determined the lure with small hooks was not life-threatening, but the trailing monofilament line could entangle and strangle the neck and/or limbs, and a fisherman on the scene was able to remove the line. NOAA has a Fishing Around Sea Turtle (FAST)program for fishermen to cut away fishing lines in an effort to prevent deadly entanglements. Hopefully in the next few days, this honu will reappear for the team to respond and remove the lure. 

PC: D. Warden

Yesterday, a fisherman called the hotline to report hooking a large sea turtle with a barbless hook and that the line broke with about 10” of trailing line. When fishermen can not bring the turtle to shore or a boat to remove the fishing lines, it’s recommended (with a turtle or seal!) to call the stranding hotline at 1-888-256-9840. The stranding network can trigger a search for the entangled animal to prevent injury and/or death.

Maui Ocean Center Turtle hospital: 

http://mocmarineinstitute.org/swimfree/sea-turtle-rescue/

FAST program:

https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/pacific-islands/resources-fishing/fishing-around-seals-and-turtles

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Last week, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) reported the fifth Hawaiian monk seal pup born on Oahu this year. Lesley Macpherson of the DLNR Division of State Parks captured the birth on video.

DLNR also reported new mom RH92 gave birth to her first-born pup, PO4, on or around April 14. RH92 was born to RK22 in May 2016. Shortly after weaning, a fisherman witnessed a dog attack her. Luckily, the puncture wounds weren’t deep; however, she was given antibiotics to stave off any possible infection. Then, she started feeding off scraps at a boat harbor, so she was translocated to a remote beach elsewhere on the island. Except that she returned to the boat harbor within a couple weeks. Luckily, an outreach campaign and regular law enforcement patrols reduced the amount of fishing scraps, and RH92 left the immediate area, foraging more widely. In November 2018, at the young age of two-and-a-half, RH92 made the open-ocean crossing to Oahu where she has been regularly sighted ever since.

On Kauai, there are several females who have pupped on the island in recent years:

  • RB00: A recent regular “pupper” on Kauai, RB00’s due date is predicted to be May 1. She was born on Kauai but spends her days on/off Hawaii Island and typically rolls onto a Kauai beach on the north shore a day or two before giving birth.
  • R400, also a regular pupper on Kauai. She pupped at Polihale last year in mid-June.
  • The prolific RH58 took last year off and did not pup. At this point, she has not been confirmed to be pregnant.
  • RK22 last known pupping event was 2017. She’s rarely sighted, presumably spending her days at Niihau.
  • RK28, another traveler, she has not been sighted recently.
RB00

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Umami: It’s often called the fifth taste, completing the list that includes sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. The word comes from the Japanese, translating to “pleasant savory taste.” Umami has also been described as “brothy” or “meaty.” 

Humans have taste receptors that recognize various compounds as umami. Turns out, pinnipeds do not. It could be because pinnipeds—a group that includes Hawaiian monk seals–have a tendency to ingest food whole, bypassing the whole taste thing.

Hawaiian monk seals also have a bifurcated tongue. That is, it splits at the tip with the two folds slightly overlapping.

But why are the tongues of Hawaiian monk seals bifurcated? What biological advantage would such a tongue offer?

In general, the tongue has multiple functions: mastication, food gathering, prey processing, transport, swallowing, and taste.

Jamie Thomton, Kauai Marine Mammal Response Coordinator for NOAA says, “If I had to guess why pinnipeds tongues are bifurcated, [I would say,] to aid in creating suction for foraging, and to assist with manipulating prey items in their mouths. 

The pinniped tongue is thick and muscular. According to a recent scientific paper, “This morphology differs from the narrow, thin tongues found in many terrestrial carnivores.” That likely indicates the tongue is an important component in pinniped biology.

The study cited above supports Thomton’s well-educated guess. The study further states, “Aquatic mammals are often unable to pin down prey and cannot use inertial feeding effectively underwater. As a result, many aquatic mammals, like pinnipeds, grab prey with their teeth (biting) or use the tongue (and hyoid) to draw prey into the mouth (suction). The tongue is then used to manipulate prey and move prey to the back of the throat so that it can swallow prey whole with little to no processing. The tongue of many aquatic mammals has therefore been modified and plays a critical role in generating suction pressures for prey transport and intraoral prey transport.” 

Unfortunately, it’s hard to see the tip of a Hawaiian monk seal’s tongue in the wild. Here’s a clip from a captive monk seal—and it’s still almost impossible to see!

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Field Report: March 2022

Monthly Update: 

The Kauai team logged 292 seal sightings this month. This included 33 individually identified seals.

  • March: 292
  • February: 233
  • January: 233
  • December: 267
  • November: 168
  • October: 229
  • September: 251
  • August: 213
  • July: 286
  • June: 218
  • May: 209
  • April: 155
  • March: 137

New:

·       Monk seal activity in the Poipu area remains high with several seals hauled out daily on the very busy Poipu Beaches. 

·       New subadult male with bleach mark V11 (temporary ID of V11) is exhibiting concerning behavior by approaching people in the water with an obvious interest in humans and no signs of fear. Two displacements from Keiki Pool by staff also revealed the seal has no fear of humans, but instead boldly approaches crowding boards. Will continue to closely monitor this seal.

Molting: 1 seal completed a molt last month at Poipu, a challenging location to manage. The seal remained hauled-out overnight for 32 days and continues to remain in the Poipu area for much of the day.

Displacements: 3 seals were displaced from the Poipu Keiki Pool, per the management plan.

Volunteers

·       Held a new volunteer training for the first time since the pandemic began, trained 7 new volunteers.

·       The volunteer program has slowly transitioned from spot-checks to partial coverage of seals in busy areas, such as Poipu. This transition will continue to pre-pandemic style scheduled shifts in the Poipu area. However, outreach to the public is still a low priority and volunteers are instructed to monitor seals and the SRA from a moderate distance, rather than at the edge of the zone. In most other areas of the island, volunteers will respond to assess the seal, take photos, set signs, and then depart. 

·       The state requirement for volunteers to be vaccinated is no longer in effect, thus all volunteers are allowed to respond.

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A few weeks ago, a subadult Humpback whale was sighted off Na Pali Coast, floating stationary in the water, head down, the tip of its fluke visible above the waterline. At first, boat crews were concerned the whale was injured or entangled, however, no entangling gear was present, and no wounds were visible. During the ensuing weeks the same whale (confirmed by photographs of its fluke and various body scars) was seen in the same position–fluke just visible above the waterline–close to shore near Port Allen, Makahuena Point, Anahola, Kipu Kai, and in Hanamaulu a mere 30 yards from the pier. Dennis Fujimoto took photos and wrote this short piece in TGI.

Jamie Thomton, Kauai Marine Mammal Response Coordinator with NOAA, observed the whale and reported it was is in good body condition with no signs of injury. Its pattern of behavior was to pose in a vertical position for about 10 minutes, then back to normal logging/breathing position for 10 minutes, repeat. There have been no further sightings. 

Turns out, this behavior, while rarely seen in Humpback whales, is common in Southern right whales, according to this article in the UK’s Daily Mail, and it’s called “tail-sailing.” Scientists aren’t 100 percent certain why whales tail-sail, but it could have something to do with thermoregulation, suggests Ed Lyman Ed Lyman, Resource Protection Specialist for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, is quoted in the article. But, he says, it’s not necessarily a posture for navigation as the word, “sail” may indicate.

This is just a reminder that there’s much we don’t know about marine mammals. It’s always good to report unusual behavior. In this case, while unusual, it was normal.

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Field Report: February 2022

Monthly Update: The Kauai team logged 233 seal sightings this month. This included 31 individually identified seals.

  • February: 233
    January: 233
  • December: 267
  • November: 168
  • October: 229
  • September: 251
  • August: 213
  • July: 286
  • June: 218
  • May: 209
  • April: 155
  • March: 137
  • February: 119

New:

·       Monk seal activity in the Poipu area remains high, with several seals hauled out daily on the very busy Poipu Beaches. 

·       Numerous new cookie cutter shark bites observed on various seals again this month. All wounds are healing normally.

Molting: Two seals molted last month at Poipu, a challenging location to manage seals that remain hauled out overnight for 10-14 days.

Volunteers:

·       Currently, volunteers are dispatched for hauled out monk seal reports to post signs, assess and ID the seal, collect routine data, and then depart the area. Outreach/education should be as minimal as possible to reduce COVID exposure risk. For busy locations, a spot check schedule will be established. This technique has proven effective and will continue until further notice. 

·       Per state rules, all DLNR volunteers are required to be vaccinated. Olry has verified vaccination status of all active volunteers.

Research/Support of PIFSC:

·       Sub-sampled scat, molt, 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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Sleep: It’s important for everyone. Including Hawaiian monk seals, and especially after multi-day foraging trips. Or when monk seals are molting. And, of course, when mothers are nursing. Some seals sleep smack in the middle of a sandy beach. But it’s not unusal for some to snuggle up with rocks and/or logs; or slip under vegetation. Or whatever happens to be on the beach.

According to National Geographic, “Monk seals spend most of their time at sea, but they come ashore to rest on beaches and use fringe vegetation as shelter from storms.”

But there may be more to it than that.

Dr. Mimi Olry has been observing Hawaiian Monk Seals for 16 years as the Kauai Marine Mammal Response Field Coordinator for the DLNR/Division of Aquatic Resources/Protected Species Program. “I don’t know for sure,” she says, “But the moms and pups, and specifically more vulnerable young animals and molting adults go up to the vegetation or objects on the beach (picnic table, chaise lounge, log) at night for protection, to not be out in the open. This may be because they are solitary, and also to avoid the reach of the high tide during the night, adverse weather, and terrestrial predators.”

It’s likely Hawaiian monk seals are also catching a few winks underwater. This behavior has been witnessed at Niihau.

“Hawaiian monk seals can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes and dive more than 1,800 feet; however, they usually dive an average of 6 minutes to depths of less than 200 feet to forage at the seafloor,” NOAA reports. “They usually sleep on beaches, sometimes for days at a time. They also occasionally sleep in small underwater caves.”

This behavior isn’t unique to Hawaiian monk seals. Mediterranean monk seals have been caught napping underwater, too. As well, other pinnipeds like fur seals, who spend months at a time at sea. But, yes, of course, all seals have to wake up frequently to surface and breathe. Harbor seals practice what’s called “bottling,” in which they all but the seal’s face remains submerged, allowing the animal to breathe while resting and/or sleeping.

On narrow beaches or during times of high tides, this proclivity of Hawaiian monk seals to sleep under vegetation and/or manmade things can put them in precarious situations. Like these:

In most cases, it’s important to let sleeping seals lie. In some cases and with authorization, Dr. Olry and her team seek will displace these seals, so they find a safer place to sleep.

[All photos credit to NOAA and Kauai HMS Conservation Hui volunteers. Mahalo.]

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The beaches on Kauai’s south side get busier every day. As COVID numbers fall and restrictions ease, more bodies are populating the beaches. Not just two-legged humans. More Hawaiian monk seals are hauling out at these same popular beaches–and rocky coastlines. Only the seals are not just chilling on the beach, sleeping until it’s time to return to the water in search of their next meal. They’re staying active.

It could be spring is in the air. Because as females haul out, males do, too. At first, one, guarding her. Then, when another male appears, the guard chases him off. Sometimes, the guard gets chased off. Meanwhile, females are getting chased around the beach. In other words, wild animals are being wild animals on a busy beach and its near shore waters. That’s not always safe for the humans.

What’s needed are volunteers. Luckily, the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui is cleared to start training (or re-training) volunteers. Call 808-651-7668. Or email kauaiseals@gmail.com for more information. You might just get to witness some unusual Hawaiian monk seal behavior.

PC: M. Olry
PC: J. Honnert
PC: J. Honnert

And here’s a blurry but evident video of the action on the beach. Video by Lifeguard Dylan.

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Monk Seal Monday #157: New Kid in Town

Last week, an unknown subadult male hauled out on the south shore, sporting a clean coat and no flipper tags. He was estimated to be four years old, a little too big for the available tagging team, so he was bleach-marked V11. Nothing is known about his history, but health-wise, he looks good. If he continues to show up, he’ll likely get his official flipper tags in the future.

PC: J. Honnert

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