Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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Some beaches are more popular than others for surfing and snorkeling and, even, seals. Take Kealia Beach Park. It’s not a popular haul out spot for Hawaiian monk seals. But, yesterday, a seal hauled out at this east side beach, more popular for body boarders and dog walkers.

The penultimate word in the previous sentence might lead one to worry that this story is about an unfortunate encounter between a “dog that runs in the sea” and one (or ones) that runs on four legs on the beach. And while there seem to be increasing numbers of monk seal and dog encounters across the island, this story does not end in one such encounter. Thankfully.

(As a reminder: state leash law says all dogs must be on leash and under owner’s control at all times on state beaches; however, no dogs—except service dogs—are allowed at County of Kauai beach parks, and Kealia is a County of Kauai Beach Park.)

But beachgoers were concerned. Lifeguards, too. A volunteer with the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui showed up and set up a “stick fence” to alert beachgoers to the snoozing seal. As is protocol, the volunteer checked the seal for entanglements and took photos. And something was different about this seal. Instead of red tags that are reserved for monk seals tagged in the Main Hawaiian Islands or even the black color used for Niihau seals, the volunteer reported this seal as “thin” and sporting gray tags. And that’s where things got really interesting.

Gray tags are usually reserved for monk seals tagged at Hōlanikū, also known as Kure Atoll. Hōlanikū is notable for its location as the most northern and western of all Hawaiian Islands, some 1,300 miles away in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Hōlanikū also happens to host the most northern and western population of Hawaiian monk seals. 

Sure enough. After examining photos, it was revealed the seal was known as KG54 (with tags G54 and G89) born at Hōlanikū in 2015. 

But yesterday wasn’t this seal first sighting in the Main Hawaiian Islands. A female, she was first spotted on Oahu in late 2021 and throughout 2022. In January 2023, she was reported on Kauai’s west side looking rather large—maybe pregnant. Based on her 2022 molt date, NOAA biologists estimated a pup-date of mid-February.

But there were no more sightings of her until yesterday—and looking thin, suggesting she may have pupped in a remote location like Niihau and now, after weaning her pup, is on the move again. The question is where? Is she headed back to Oahu? Hōlanikū? Or will she stick around Kauai?

These are the kinds of interesting discoveries that make volunteers head out in wind and rain with their binoculars to see what they might find on the beach!

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Field Report: February 2023

Monthly Update: The Kauai team logged 249 seal sightings this month (252 in Jan, 239 in Dec, 243 in Nov, 277 in Oct, 400 in Sept). This included 37 individually identified seals.


·       Juvenile male R616 observed with severe laceration across base of muzzle. Closely assessed by staff, wounds exactly match previous seals injuries caused by hagfish trap cones. Seal monitored without intervention. Seal fully healed in 3 weeks. 

·       As many as 8 monk seals have been hauling out/socializing/fighting at Poipu Beach Park most days, and most of the seals are adult males. This is typical spring behavior at Poipu and continues to be a challenge for the volunteer team to manage.

·       AM RN30 chased off Mahaulepu Beach by an off-leash dog. No contact made. This beach continues to be a problem with off-leash dogs.

Molting: 4 seals molted this past month.

Bleach Marking: 5 seals were bleach marked.


·       Trained 3 new volunteers with Hui.

Research/Support of PIFSC

·       Logged all turtle tagging with MTBAP Data Form

·       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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Remember R616? The untagged juvenile male Hawaiian monk seal that hauled out one day with a gnarly wound to his face? Well, his healing process has been remarkable, as reports from dedicated volunteers and their photos illustrate.

R616 is most likely a Niihau seal, he was first reported as a very small clean juvenile male on 9/16/2021at Nukolii where he was observed off and on for several months. Later, he was observed with a partial cookie cutter shark scar on the right chin area and given the identification of “temp 616.” After a year, he was given a permanent ID number of R616. 

R616 likes to cruise the east side and molted in September 2022. He has become more robust as he grows into a healthy two-year-old, going on three.  

While the cause of the laceration across his muzzle is unknown, it was quite likely a sharp object encountered while exploring the ocean. The wound was open and clean, and the saltwater allowed continued flushing of the wound, keeping it clean. Within three days, there was evidence of healthy granulation tissue filling in the wound and, eventually, closing it. A week later the skin has started to heal over the deeper tissues and fill in the deficit tissues.  Eventually, he will have a line scar that will also identify him until he can be tagged.

Here’s a photographic history of his healing.

R616: Three days after reported wound laceration.
R616: Two weeks post-report of laceration.
R616: Three week post-report of laceration.

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More turtles on Kauai and across the main Hawaiian Islands are being tagged to track their movements for possible nesting and basking changes and NOAA reseachers are turning to citizen scientists for help.

Earlier this month, NOAA introduced a new way of reporting re-sightings of honu with motos (identifications made with non-toxic paint) that utilizes an online form (found here) for data collection.

The new survey format is supposed to make collecting data easier for citizen scientists and provide a more complete and accurate dataset of re-sightings. For example, within the survey, there is a map where the user drops a pin of their sighting, which then records the GPS coordinates of the sighting. Getting accurate coordinates of sightings provides a clearer picture of foraging grounds, population dispersal, as well as where our rehab honu are spending their time post-rehab. 

 The form includes fields for:

  • Date/time
  • Honu ID
  • Island
  • Area/Location
  • Behavior
  • Photos
  • Comments

On the back end, a map of all sightings is automatically generated along with a spreadsheet of all the sighting information, reducing time manually entering data and making analysis easier. 

The Honu Count began in 2017 as a way to get the community involved in reporting returning Lalo (French Frigate Shoals) honu around the main Hawaiian islands. The citizen science project started with a hotline, then moved to the Respect Wildlife email, and is now evolving to an online survey generated through ArcGIS Survey123. The survey can be used from smartphones, tablets, and computers through any of the major browsers (Google, Firefox, Safari, etc.). More information can be found at this website

The flyer below has a QR code that also links directly to the survey. 

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Grand sightings total: 

o   3,381 or 9.3 seals sightings/day on Kauai in 2022

o   2,377 or 6.5/day in 2021

o   2,005 or 5.5/day in 2020

o   3,154 or 8.9/day in 2019

o   3,253 or 8.9/day in 2018

o   3,621 or 9.9/day in 2017 

o   3,236 or 8.9/day in 2016

o   3,321 or 9.1/day in 2015

o   2,516 or 6.9/day in 2014

Kauai population: 

o   69 unique individual seals sighted on Kauai in 2022

o   65 in 2021

o   67 in 2020

o   67 in 2019

o   60 in 2018

o   60 in 2017

o   56 in 2016

o   53 in 2015

o   47 in 2014

Births: 3 total born on Kauai in 2022

Mortalities: 1 confirmed mortality in 2022:

o   R7GM: adult female died from birthing complications related to twin full-term fetuses.

Niihau Seals (likely): sighted a minimum of 9 new seals in 2022, but likely more as several new untagged seals had no markings or scars so no temporary IDs were given (8 in 2021, 8 in 2020, 5 in 2019, 9 in 2018, 12 in 2017, 6 in 2016, 14 in 2015).

Displacements: 21 total displacements occurred.

o   21 displacements from the Poipu Keiki Pool. 

Vaccination for morbillivirus efforts: 

o   2 seals were vaccinated

Bleach marking effort: 

o   14 bleach marks were applied

Stranding Responses in 2022:

Hawaiian monk seal responses: 

o   RM28: Hooked. Captured and hook removed on the beach by the Kauai team.

o   RP28: Hooked. Leader trimmed, seal then threw hook on own.

o   R2XW: Hooked. Leader trimmed. Follow-up response required vet support to sedate and removed hook from around mandible. Procedure conducted at DLNR baseyard. 

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Turtle Tuesday #12: Honu Rescue

Even turtles, it seems, like a quiet place to take a nap. Thankfully, last week, when one honu got itself into a rather tight place among some boulders along the jetty at Nawiliwili Harbor, a couple of kind beachgoers saw and went to great lengths to help it. The stranded honu, and subsequent effort to free it, even caught the attention of local news stations.

The tight location wasn’t the only challenge. When the stranding crew arrived in the evening, it was low tide. Some rocks and boulders had been moved to access the turtle; however, the team had to wait until the next morning when the tide returned to “float” the turtle. That made is possible to turn the honu around and extricate it from the opening. An in-field exam showed no injuries, and once the turtle was released into the water, it made a hasty retreat. The opening in the jetty wall was filled with rocks, so, hopefully, no other turtle decides to camp overnight in the same spot.

Spot an injured or dead sea turtle? Call the Hawaiʻi statewide NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline at (888) 256-9840. Stranding teams are always on stand-by 24/7, including weekends and holidays.

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PC: S. Rossiter.

Three weeks ago, we shared a scientific journal that published a paper on the first detection of polymastia in a Mediterranean monk seal. Then, last week, a report to the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui resulted in this photo of an Hawaiian monk seal female with, possibly, five nipples (circled in orange).

This is the first known sighting of this untagged seal. She’s suspected to be a sub-adult, likely never pupped yet, so it’s unknown whether all five nipples express milk.

The existence of extra mammary glands is a condition known as polymastia.

Note: The yellow circle is believed to be a scar, not a nipple.

Hawaiian monk seals have been studied for over 30 years. Yet the discoveries and learning continue every day.

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Monk Seal Monday #177: Triple Nipple

A recent scientific publication in Aquatic Mammals shared the first detection of polymastia in the Mediterranean monk seal. 

The Mediterranean monk seal is one of the rarest mammals worldwide, even more endangered than the Hawaiian monk seal. Both belong to the family of Phocidae, also known as earless or true seals. But both species differ from other members of this family in that they have four nipples, instead of two. Typically, the nipples are arranged two on each side of the belly with the navel in the center. Similar to the layout of dots on a domino symbolizing the number five.

Extra mammary glands is a condition known as polymastia.

The paper reported the first two known cases of polymastia in Mediterranean monk seals. And it happened, pretty much, by accident.

Lead author on the paper Miguel Ángel Cedenilla says, the detection of the first case was pure serendipity. In a Facebook post, he’s quoted as saying, “In November 2016, while trying to tag a female on Deserta Grande Island with a Fastloc GPS, in full development of the LIFE MADEIRA MONK SEAL project, we realized something strange. Of the four females that had given birth, one had lost her calf. But she acted as a foster mother to the other pups. Our surprise was to see that three jets of milk from three well-separated points emanated from her belly. Clearly, that female had 3 active teats on her right flank. It was Rosa Pires who came up with the most appropriate name possible to call this new female: ‘Maminhas.’ which in Portuguese means ‘mamas.’”

All total, this Mediterranean monk seal had five nipples.

Then, in March 2020, another Mediterranean with polymastia was discovered. 

According to the paper, “The second case was observed at the Cabo Blanco monk seal colony (Western Sahara/ Mauritania) through photo-identification pictures taken of breeding female 2363, “Oca,” in March 2020. Although monitored since 2011, and having had at least three pups in 2012, 2014, and 2020, no lactation of this female had been recorded, and it was not possible to know if the 5th nipple was active in milk production.”

There happens to be a Hawaiian monk seal well-known around Kauai’ as “Triple Nipple.” As the nickname implies, she has three nipples. Not that she has a bonus nipple and, hence, a total of five. She has a total of three nipples, instead of the more common four. Her scientific ID is RK14; however, she’s currently untagged, so the best way to ID her is by the presence of her three nipples.

Female Mediterranean monk seal on side with three nipples exposed and streaming milk.
Nursing Mediterranean monk seal.

PC: Aquatic Mammals Journal

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Monk Seal Monday #176: Molting

Right now, there’s a very visible monk seal hanging out at Poipu. He’s been there for a week, seemingly day and night. This is very natural. Approximately, once a year, Hawaiian monk seals go through a “catastrophic molt,” meaning they lose the top layer of skin and fur in one concentrated period of time, rather than continually throughout the year. The seal at Poipu is an untagged male (with a temp ID of V3) whose molt is about 70% complete. The molting process can take one to two weeks.

Because molting requires great energetic resources, during this time, the seal will usually stick pretty close to the beach, often spending the night tucked high up the beach and under bushes.

Molting is a vulnerable time for monk seals, another reason to encourage folks to keep dogs on leashes. Typically, the molt starts on the belly, flippers, muzzle, and scars. Then, moves to the back. The molting pattern isn’t exactly “attractive.” A seal with patches of dead skin falling off can often cause beach-goers concern, thinking the seal is sick or, even, dead. Adult females will often molt soon after they wean their pups.

Basically, seals molt, because their coat gets dirty. After spending long bouts of time at sea, algae will often grow on their fur. If you see a seemingly green-colored seal, you’ll know he or she is nearing his/her molt.

After molting, monk seals regain their dark gray to brown color on their dorsal (back) side and a light gray to yellowish brown color on their under (ventral) side. This difference in coloration is known as “countershading.” From below, the seal’s light belly blends in with the sunny surface of the ocean. From above, the seal’s darker back is closer in color to the dark ocean floor. This serves as camouflage for seals. It helps them sneak up on prey, as well as, hide from sharks and other predators.

Here’s a series of photos from a few years ago that show the molting progression.

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