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RK13andPK1aOur “old girl” RK13 with the blind left eye up and surprised everyone on Friday when she decided to pup at a location she’s never pupped at before! (Just when we think we know the ways and habits of these seals, they up and do something new and different–even “old” ones!) In weeks prior, RK13 was looking very pregnant, so her new pup was expected, just not her chosen location. However, she chose a good spot, considering the  rainstorms and flooding of late. For mom’s and pup’s safety, the exact beach location is not being publicized at this time. The (P)update is that young one is healthy, and mom took to nursing and protecting it right away! She has plenty experience, after all.

The biggest concern for this mother/pup pair are loose dogs, which have attacked attacked seals and pups in this location before. That said, volunteers are needed to gently and respectfully reach out to folks who may have their dogs off-leash. During the first few weeks the pup is small and slow moving, so dogs are a very real threat to the pup, and Hawaii state law is very clear–all dogs must be leashed at all times on state lands. Later, once the mom and pup start swimming, outreach and focus will shift to humans swimming in the area, as mothers are very protective and often view swimmers as threats to their pups.

RK13andPK1bIf you are a trained volunteer and would like to get back in the pup-sitting fold, please call our hotline at 808-651-7668. And if you have never volunteered before but would like to start now, call the same number. Volunteers are always needed and greatly appreciated.

(If you’d like to know more information about RK13, scroll down to the bottom of this post where it says, “Posted in” and click on “RK13.” That will return every report of RK13 every made on this website. Happy reading!)

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If you’ve heard about the storm that Kauai weathered over the weekend, some of you may be wondering about our Hawaiian monk seals. (If you haven’t heard about the storm, you can read more about it here.)

The Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui does not deploy volunteers to dangerous situations–during storms or otherwise–and didn’t yesterday, either; however, the general public reported four seals hauled out on southern and western shores yesterday. They were all reported to be fine. The brunt of the storm hit Kauai’s north shore. Obviously, monk seals are marine mammals and are much better adapted to handle rising waters than we mere humans.

Now, for the March Field Report:

Sightings:

The Kauai team logged 299 seal sightings this month. This included 30 individually identified seals.

March: 299
Feb: 259
Jan: 336
Dec: 270
Nov: 239
Oct: 225
Sep: 354

New

  • AF (Adult/Female) R376 was observed on Poipu Beach with bait trailing from her mouth and with a significant loss of weight since her previous sighting six weeks prior, suggesting she’d ingested a fish hook. With 13 volunteers assisting, a trained response team crowded her into transport carrier, and she was moved to DOFAW baseyard in Lihue to await arrival of an Oahu veterinary team. A fish bone was discovered to be lodged in her mouth. It was removed, she was given antibiotics and released at Poipu Beach by the end of the same day. Read more about this swift and successful response here.
  • JF (Juveniile/Female) R7AA hauled out onto the shoulder of the road near Brenneckes in Poipu. A visitor called the hotline, and later the seal was displaced into the water and away from the road entirely.
  • Several reports of dogs chasing seals off the beach at Maha’ulepu were reported to the hotline. No seal injuries have been reported. DOCARE has been alerted.
  • A report was made from a fisherman of a seal dead in a net 3.5 miles outside Nawiliwili Harbor. USCG provided vessel support to investigate and possibly retrieve. A large bill fish, not a seal, was found entangled in a large cargo net, partially eaten by sharks.

Updates on previously reports:

  • NG00 is likely still hooked and was not sighted this month. SM (Small/Male) Sighted on Niihau in January. Photos match pictures sent in last September by fisherman of a hooked seal along Kaumakani on Kauai. Seal presents in good condition. Since hook is not life threatening, the Kauai response team will attempt to de-hook him the next opportunity that presents itself.
  • Poipu Keiki Pool: no displacements took place this month.
  • Bleach markings: 3 seals bleach marked this month.
  • Molting activity: no seals molted this month.

Research/Support of Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center:

  • Subsampled serum samples from R376 for PIFSC and shipped to Oahu.
  • Sub-sampled scat, molt, and tissue plug samples.
  • Logged all seal sightings. Organized photos and reported sightings, molt tallies, survival factors and sent to PIFSC.

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A young RB00 shortly after acquiring flipper tags.

The female monk seal with the red flipper tags of B00 and B01 is so elusive that she’s never once been mentioned in the nearly 10 years of reports on this website. Now, having pieced together 10 years of her life, we finally have a story about her, and we’re devoting today’s entire post to her. For such an elusive Hawaiian monk seal, this has turned out to be a lengthy report.

On April 28, 2007, the now famous* RH58, also known as “Rocky,” gave birth to a female on one of Kaua‘i’s North Shore beaches. The pup sported a natural bleach mark at birth across her rump in the shape of a heart. As she’s aged, the heart has become more salt and pepper, but it’s visible after she molts. Because of the heart shape, she was nick-named by some “Pu`uwai.” However, some also refer to her as “Boo Baby,” because of her flipper tags—B00. In the official scientific record, however, she’s RB00.

 

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Once RB00 weaned, she took off and was rarely seen. Her NOAA file is fairly thin. Her 10 years of her sightings reports only run about 10 lines.

·      2007: In October, RB00 was instrumented with a satellite tag as part of a study to track the movements of weaned pups and juveniles in the Main Hawaiian Islands.
·      2009: She was sighted twice, both at the same beach on the southeast side of Kaua‘i.
·      2011: In January, she was hazed off a net debris pile on Kaua‘i to avoid possible entanglement. Then, she started popping up on O‘ahu. For the year, she was sighted a total of 8 times between Kaua‘i and O‘ahu.
·      2012: Sighted 15 times between Kaua‘i and O‘ahu.
·      2013: RB00 kept heading southeast and turned up Moloka‘i, recording only one sighting for the year.
·      2014: RB00 backtracked to Kaua‘i where she was sighted twice.
·      2015: RB00 logged five sightings in this year, including on Kaua‘i, Moloka‘i, and Maui.
·      2016: In January, RB00 was observed with a dead newborn pup on a remote part of Maui. This was the first confirmed pup for her. After a partial field necropsy, it appeared the full-term male was a stillbirth. Then, it appears RB00 continued moving southeast, because she logged a record 33 sightings for the remainder of the year, almost all on Hawai‘i Island.
·      2017: The sightings slowed back down to five, all on Hawai‘i Island and Maui.

As you can see from RB00’s history, Hawaiian monk seals can and do travel far and wide. But then this year, on January 6, 2018, RB00 notched another island to her portfolio. She was found on a remote beach on the island of Lāna‘i with a healthy female pup that was estimated to be anywhere from one to three days old. The timing of the birth also meant RB00 had provided us with the first Hawaiian monk seal pup of the year in the Main Hawaiian Islands.

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PC: Pūlama Lānaʻi Natural Resources Department

RB00 nursed her pup for a whopping six-and-a-half to seven weeks before weaning. Pup was given a permanent ID of R00K and outfitted with red flipper tags reading K100 and K101. She was also microchipped and vaccinated for morvillivirus.

It just so happens the the ex-Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Coordinator, Dr. Rachel Sprague, is the Wildlife Biologist with Pūlama Lānaʻi Department of Natural Resources  and her team monitored mom and pup throughout. Dr. Sprague also shared these anecdotes about her:

·      R00K is the first monk seal pup ever tagged on Lanai, so she is the first monk seal that wherever she goes, it will be known that she is from this island. She is very cute, fat, energetic, and curious.

·      Unlike some monk seal pups, this one didn’t just follow her mom around, but would go into the water first and head off swimming, or go exploring down the beach and mom would have to follow her (or bellow at the pup and she would go flopping back to mom).  Quite a few times, the pup would flop all over her mom and want to go swimming, so mom would follow and lie with her head underwater while the pup played around in the water (mom would pop her head out of the water to take a breath occasionally, and then put it back underwater).  Staff with kids or nieces/nephews would say “I know how mom feels!  Sometimes you ‘can’t even’ and need to just sit with your head underwater for as long as possible so you don’t have to deal and can get some peace and quiet.”

·      When we would go down to the beach to check on her and mom, she was most often swimming in the water, flippers flopping around above the surface while she messed with some sea cucumber or something else on the bottom.  We saw her multiple times on the beach and in the water spending time biting and playing with pieces of marine debris/marine plastics – she is very curious.

·      She is also very very fat! Her mom did a great job of nursing, so she is on the fatter end of weaned pups. She will use all that fat to live off of as she learns to find food for herself and ranges farther.  When we were trying to tag her, we had to wait for about 4 ½ hours in the blowing sand because she was having a great time swimming and wouldn’t come out of the water where we could tag her.

 

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Once pup weaned, Dr. Sprague conducted outreach at the local Lāna‘i schools, sharing photos and video of mom and pup. With the aid of Hawaiian cultural advisor, the kids selected four nicknames for the pup. These names were then presented at a community event and the entire island commuity voted on a the seal’s nickname.

R00K’s nickname is `Imikai. It translates to English as “ocean seeker.” Seems quite appropriate for a Hawaiian monk seal and, especially, an offspring of the widely traveled RB00.

The Pūlama Lānaʻi Department of Natural Resources kindly provided us with these many photographic images and video of mom and pup.

*RH58 “Rocky” made national headlines last summer when she gave birth to a pup nicknamed “Kaimana” on a beach in Waikiki.

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Here’s a recently developed fact sheet on toxoplasmosis, a significant disease threat to the survival of Hawaii’s endangered Hawaiian monk seal. More information can be found here. Additionally, a public forum is being held this Saturday, March 31st on Oahu to address the concerns and impacts of toxoplasmosis to Hawaii’s wildlife and public health. Dr. Michelle Barbieri, the Wildlife Veterinarian Medical Officer with the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program, and Angela Amlin, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Coordinator, are both on the panel. Scroll down for more information.

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R376 in robust body condition on December 21, 2017.

At 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, March 6, a report was called in to the hotline of an adult female, R376, hauled out at Poipu with something hanging out of her mouth. Our monk seal response team suspected she may have had a fish hook stuck in her mouth and the dangling bits were bait. Upon arriving at the beach 30 minutes later, the organic material was still visible, but what was also evident to the team was that she’d lost quite a bit of weight since her last sighting one month before. The combination of the two issues prompted our local team to reach out to the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program–all disturbances/handling of endangered Hawaiian monk seals require clearance–and it was decided a physical examination was warranted.

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R376 in thin body condition on March 6, 2018.

With the help of a trained volunteer team, R376 was easily herded into a transport cage and transported to secure location to await the NOAA veterinary team that was en-route from Honolulu to assist with the examination.

At 3:30 the seal was sedated and examined with radiographs taken from the head to stomach; however, no hooks were present. A visual inspection of the seal’s mouth revealed a large spinous fish bone lodged between the hard palette, left inner cheek, and tongue. The organic material dangling from her mouth was a large octopus arm that was caught on the fish bone. A pair of needle nose pliers were used to carefully remove the bone. An antibiotic injection was given, blood samples were taken for post morbillivirus vaccination titers, the seal was flipper tagged 7AU (left flipper) and 7AV (right flipper), and the sedation was reversed.

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Small wound and infection from embedded fish bone.

 

fish bone

Fish bone (top) and octopus tentacles (bottom).

R376/7AU was transported back to Poipu and released by the Kauai team by 6:30 p.m. The seal entered the water and departed the area.

 

R376

If you come upon this monk seal (flipper tags 7AU/7AV), please give her wide berth while she recovers and regains her lost weight. But please take photos and report her whereabouts to our hotline: 808-651-7668.

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Sightings:

The Kauai team logged 259 seal sightings this month. This included 32 individually identified seals.

Feb: 259
Jan: 336
Dec: 270
Nov: 239
Oct: 225
Sep: 354

New Issues:

  • RK90 returned after 6 week absence. Was large and pregnant on 12/28/17 and then sighted on 2/17/18 thin. Likely pupped on Niihau. This would be her first pupping.

Updates on previously reported issues:

  • NG00 is likely still hooked and was not sighted this month. NG00 was observed with a circle hook in lower right lip. Sighted on Niihau in January. Photos match pictures sent in by fisherman along Kaumakani in September of a hooked seal. Seal in good condition, hook not life threatening, will attempt to de-hook next time hauled out on sand.
  • Poipu Keiki Pool: 6 displacements took place this month. Listed below are which seals and how many total times they have been displaced from the keiki pool. Please remember displacements require skilled training and, as always, prior approval from NOAA. Please never attempt this on your own. But please do call the hotline (808-651-7668) when/if you find a monk seal in the Poipu Keiki Pool.
    • RN02 – 3rd displacement
    • RG58 – 1st and 2nd displacement both this month
    • R339 – 4th displacement
    • RV18 – 1st displacement
    • RK90 – 3rd displacement
  • Morbillivirus vaccinations: All vaccines on Kauai have expired. No further vaccinations will occur for the time being.
  • Bleach markings: 2 seals bleach marked this month.
  • Molting activity: 1 seal molted this month.

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Last week, a report came in that we one of our yearlings (RJ28)was hauled out on top of a trash bag.

It’s time to talk about marine debris.

Marine debris is considered a significant threat for Hawaiian monk seals.

monk seal in derelect fishing gear

PC: NOAA. French Frigate Shoals.

Unfortunately, monk seals have one of the highest entanglement rates of any pinniped species. Masses of ghost fishing nets (think giant tangles of plastic spaghetti) create their own kinds of floating ecosystem, so they can attract monk seals to them for food. Plus, monk seals have curious natures, and it’s the pups who are most often entangled.

According to the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center:

From 1982-2014 a total of 347 seals have been found entangled in marine debris, of which 237 (68%) were rescued, 93 escaped unaided, 9 died, and the fate of 8 others is unknown. About 96% of all entanglements have been observed in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI), however, due to the remoteness of these islands, it is unknown how many additional seals drown or die from entanglement when researchers are not present.

Marine debris has become a routine part of a field biologist’s efforts in saving monk seals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands–the protected area of the Hawaiian archipelago known as the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. At some atolls, the entanglement threat is so great that the field crew conducts twice-daily–morning and afternoon–surveys to free any entangled monk seals, turtles, and seabirds. But there is no field crew stationed during the winter months at these locations.

In addition to monk seals, the islands, islets, and atolls host more than 7,000 marine species. In the summer of 2016, the team helped remove over 7,000 pounds of marine debris. That was one pound of marine debris for each species of marine life.

RK54.Susan Johnson

Photo credit: S. Johnson

When we say “marine debris,” we mean:

  • ghost fishing nets
  • fishing lines
  • fishing traps
  • fishing buoys
  • tires
  • televisions
  • lightbulbs
  • laundry baskets
  • plastic bottles
  • plastic bottle caps
  • plastic jugs
  • plastic tooth brushes
  • plastic cigarette lighters
  • cigarette butts

And that’s just a quick list.

Marine debris is not a problem limited to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, where an estimated 85 percent of the population of Hawaiian monk seals reside. In the main Hawaiian Islands, we lose monk seals to drowning due to entanglement with fishing gear, including here on Kaua`i. Since starting this website in 2009, four Kauai-born seals (RT12, RG13, R4DD, RJ22) have died in which drowning was suspected to be the cause of death. In these cases, necropsies indicated acute death and histopathology reports indicated no 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.

What you can do:

  • Join or lead a clean-up. The Kauai chapter of Surfrider is very active and often focus their efforts on many of the beaches monk seals haul out.
  • Frequent Ocean Friendly restaurants.
  • Say no to single-use plastics; carry your own refillable water bottles and reusable utensils.
  • Say no to plastic bags; carry your own bags.
  • Say no to plastic straws; carry your own paper variety or reusable stainless steel.
  • Say no to products heavily packaged in plastic; opt for products packaged in recyclable materials.
  • Recycle, recycle, recycle.

 

 

 

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