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Field Report: October 2019

Monthly Update: The Kauai team logged 258 seal sightings this month. This included 36 individually identified seals.

October: 258
September: 203
August: 324
July: 239
June: 179
May: 262
April: 348
March: 350
Feb: 303
Jan: 284

New:

  • A new juvenile male seal was flipper tagged on the South Shore by the Kauai team. The seal’s ID is R1NI.
  • Very pregnant AF R8HE spent two weeks on a North Shore beach. This seal is usually on Maui and Hawaii Island, and pupped on Maui in 2018. She has moved back to Oahu since. Her predicted pupping date was Nov 9.
  • The annual monk seal count day occurred on Oct 19th. Kauai had the most seals with 20 seals reported before noon. Three more seals hauled out later the day for a total of 23 different seals sighted on Kauai that day. The statewide (from Kauai to BI) total count was 50 seals.

Updates:

  • PK6 born at Milolii in September is male, the mother is R400, the same female that has pupped at Milolii in Sept the past 2 years. The pup weaned on approximately Oct 31, resulting in 41-day nursing period. Tour boats and kayak companies are providing updates.
  • S/F R7AA was seen with a small lump under the left jaw line on 8/31/19, it was possibly a small abscess. The seal was re-sighted on 10/21/19 in good health with no obvious abscesses on the jaw line.
  • RH38, the seal rehabbed at KKO and released in July, continues to thrive on the North Shore.
  • All of the 6 pups born this year have been sighted recently and continue to thrive.
  • Displacements: A/F RK13 was displaced from the road edge at Fuji Beach, Kapaa at 3:00 am after calls from the police that the seal was on the road edge and in danger of being run over.
  • Molting: 3 seals molted this month.
  • Vaccinations: No vaccinations given this month.
  • Bleach marking: Two seals were bleach marked this month, both are new untagged seals.

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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Kauai’s sixth pup of the year is now a weaner. He was born on September 20, 2019, and his mother, R400, weaned him 41 days later on October 31, 2019. Other 2019 pups nursed  longer; however, this youngster is no lightweight. When he was flipper-tagged last week–as RL40–he measured 124 centimeters in length and 113 centimeters in girth. As you can see in these pictures, he looks nice and plump and healthy. The tagging team reported L40 (L40 left flipper; L41 right flipper) was strong and feisty and didn’t even depart the beach after tagging.

Kauai’s 2019 pupping season began on February 4 and appears to have ended on October 31–unless there is a late-season surprise birth. It’s happened before. In 2009, RK12 gave birth to a pup who was later flipper-tagged as RA36 in late November, the day after Thanksgiving.

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PC: M. Olry

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PC: M. Olry

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PC: M. Olry

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PC: M. Olry

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PC: M. Olry

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PC: M. Olry

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Monk Seal Monday #75: Tracking RH38

This year has been one of downs and ups for three-and-a-half-year-old RH38. It started with a drastic weight loss that earned the female a visit to Ke Kai Ola on Hawaii Island where she became the first wild Hawaiian monk seal to undergo a CT scan. After an extended stay and recovery from near death, RH38 was returned to Kauai, and it looks like she’ll end the year on a high. Turns out, RH38 is a survivor, like her mother. RH38 was born to the legendary RK30 in May 2016.

Thanks to a telemetry tracking device attached to her back when she was returned to the wild, scientists are able to keep an eye on her movements. (The telemetry device will fall off the next time RH38 molts, if not before.)

The “tracks” resulting from the device show RH38 has logged quite a few miles cruising nearly the entire circumference of Kauai.

RH38 Tracks

Here are some photos of RH38 from October that show her healthy body condition.

RH38 Werthwine 3

PC: M. Werthwine

PC

RH38 by Werthwine 2

PC: M. Werthwine

RH38 Werthwine

PC: M. Werthwine

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Monk Seal Monday #74:

A visit last week to the remote beach where Kauai’s sixth pup of 2019 was born on September 20th revealed two things: PK6 is male, and his mother is, as suspected, R400.

R400 is not flipper-tagged; however, her identification was confirmed from various scars–a line scar on the left side of her face and some small pit scars mid-back. Her most prominent scar is a medium-sized, semi-circular shark bite along her lower back on her right side.

Often, we sight pregnant seals on Kauai who seemingly disappear for four to six weeks, only to reappear looking quite thin. We suspect these seals go to Niihau to pup. However, in this case, R400 does the opposite. She spends most of her time on and around Niihau and comes to Kauai to pup. Therefore, little is known about her. But here’s what we do know:

  • She pupped along Napali Coast on September 11, 2017, and photographs revealed identifying scars. She was logged into NOAA’s ranks as R400. However, R400’s pup was never tagged due to the heavy waves and large swells that roll in for the winter about the time the pup was weaned.
  • On September 15, 2018, tour boat operators reported a female seal with a newborn pup at this same remote Napali beach. Again, due to the pup’s arrival coinciding with the return of the winter season’s swells, the pup was not flipper tagged. This time, no photographs allowed for a confirmed identification of the mother. However, the timing matched what would have been a due date of R400.

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On Saturday morning, October 19, 2019, volunteers from around the Main Hawaiian Islands combed beaches, scanned coastlines, and reported any monk seal sightings between 9:00 and 12Noon.
Here on Kauai, a total of 20 seals were sighted. This was a record high for Kauai. Of course, minutes after the close of the four-hour reporting window, another monk seal was sighted on Kauai. And a little while later, another two. However, for the four-hour official time slot, our number was 20. Not only was that a record high for Kauai during any previous count, but it was the highest of the day for any other island.
Here’s a look at the general locations where Kauai’s 20 were spotted:
Oct-19 Monk Seal Count by Kauai Region
A total of 50 Hawaiian monk seals were sighted across the main Hawaiian Islands. Here’s how the numbers break down by island:
Kauai: 20
Molokai: 13
Oahu: 12
Maui: 2
Lanai: 2
BI: 1
Total: 50
Oct 19 Monk Seal Count by Island
Here’s a look at a trend line by island since 2007.
Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Moloka‘i, Maui_Lāna‘i, Hawai‘i Island…
Keep in mind, these numbers are a snapshot in time, not a true count of the entire population. For every one seal sighted on land, there may be one or two more foraging at seal. Plus, there may be others on land but well hidden. Weather plays a factor. Number of volunteers, too.

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The Kauai team logged 203 seal sightings this month. This included 31 individually identified seals.

September: 203
August: 324
July: 239
June: 179
May: 262
April: 348
March: 350
Feb: 303
Jan: 284

New:

  • A second pup was born at a remote beach along Na Pali Coast. The ID of the mother is unknown, but likely the same Niihau female that has pupped on that beach the past two Septembers, R400. Tour boats and kayak companies are providing updates.

Updates:

  • Sub-adult female R7AA was seen with small lump under left jaw line on 8/31/19, possibly a small abscess. The seal has not been re-sighted since. The plan is to closely monitor.
  • RH58 (Rocky) successfully weaned her female pup, PK5. The pup was flipper-tagged and vaccinated and now has an ID of RL58.
  • RK30 successfully weaned her female pup, PK6. The pup was flipper-tagged, and the seal’s ID is now RL30.
  • RH38, the seal rehabbed at Ke Kai Ola and released in July, continues to thrive on the north shore.
  • The first three 2019 pups (RL08, RL52, and RL28) continue to be sighted in good condition at various north and east shore beaches.
  • Displacements: No seals were displaced this month.
  • Molting: Four seals were observed molting this month.
  • Vaccinations: PK4 and PK5 were vaccinated during pup tagging and received booster vaccinations three weeks later.
  • Bleach marking: One seal was bleach marked this month.

Research/Support of Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center:

  • 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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In March 2018, called the hotline to report an adult Hawaiian monk seal hauled out on Poipu Beach with something dangling from her mouth. What’s more, the seal looked skinny. The concern with a report like that is always that a Hawaiian monk seal has ingested a fish hook and is unable to forage on her own. After consultation with NOAA officials and veterinarians, it was decided to conduct a physical examination of the seal.

Turns out, a fish bone was lodged between the seal’s hard palette, left inner cheek, and tongue, and the dangling matter hanging from her mouth was a large octopus arm that had gotten caught on the fish bone.

The seal wasn’t flipper-tagged, but she was known as R376. After removing the fish bone, injecting her with an antibiotic to combat any infections, and flipper-tagging the seal (7AU left and 7AV right), she was released.

R376 isn’t seen around Kauai often. In fact, she’s only been reported to the hotline nine times this year, usually on the south shore. It’s suspected she spends most of her time on Niihau. But she turned up on Kauai at just the right time one-and-a-half years ago. And, now, her most recent sighting shows she’s continuing to thrive. In fact, her size is such that there’s some speculation she may be pregnant. Now, how’s that for a survival story!IMG_6606

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