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Field Report: April

Monthly Update:

The Kauai team logged 348 seal sightings in April. This included 35 individually identified seals.

April: 348
March: 350
Feb: 303
Jan: 284
Dec: 153
Nov: 145
Oct: 203
Sep: 199

New:

  • New pup born to RK52. This is her first successful pup. In 2018, she pupped for the first time, however the pup was stillborn. This pup is male and thriving so far. Of note, RK52 was born to RH58 in 2011. The other pup born this year was to RB00, also offspring of RH58.

Updates:

  • Subadult female RH38 was captured and sent to KKO for care.
  • Adult female RB00 pupped at her natal beach; however she had previously pupped on Maui and Lanai, not Kauai. The pup is male and thriving. He weaned after 54 days of nursing and tagged as RL08 in April.
  • Displacements: No seals were displaced from the Poipu keiki pool. However, adult female RK90 began hauling out at Glass Beach and spending the nights. She was in pre-molt, and then molt condition during this time. Glass Beach is an unsafe location at night due to trucks driving on the beach. Therefore, RK90 was displaced (with approval from NOAA by trained staff) off the beach at sunset five times (3 times in April), twice along with adult male RK05. RK90 continues to return to Glass Beach several times per week, but has begun foraging at night again, therefore displacement has not been necessary. Close monitoring of this beach continues.
  • Bleach markings: 1 was applied this month.
  • Molting: 1 seal molted this month (RK90 at Glass Beach).

Research/Support of PIFSC:

  • Sub-sampled scat, molt, and tissue plug samples accordingly.
  • Logged all seal sightings for Pacific Islands Fisheries and Science Center (PIFSC) database. Organized photos and reported sightings, molt tallies, survival factors to send to PIFSC.

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In January 2018, a male juvenile monk seal was sighted on Niihau with a hook in his lower right lip. Photos of him happened to match another set of photos submitted by some kindly fishermen of a sighting in September 2017. Both sets of images showed the animal to be in good body condition with the hook not presenting a life-threatening situation. Clearly, the seal was managing to forage successfully. So, the decision was made to await an attempted de-hooking when the seal was next sighted–as long as he was in a safe place and situation to intervene.

Thing is, this wasn’t NG00‘s first hooking. In May 2016, he hauled out on a Kauai beach with a hook stuck in his lip. At the time, NOAA approved a trained team to capture him and remove the hook, and they did. Successfully. Then, 18 months later, he was hooked again. That was the Niihau sighting.

Months went by. NG00 was sighted but not in a safe place for intervention. Then, he was sighted, but he’d recently molted, so it was decided–once again–not to intervene.

You might be wondering about his flipper tag number. NG00 was tagged on Niihau, and his tags are black. As you can tell, he tends to make the swim back and forth from Niihau to Kauai fairly regularly.

Last week, the stars and seals aligned. After romping with with RG58, he hauled out in a safe spot. With NOAA’s approval, a trained team caught him, and safely removed the hook that he’d been sporting since, at least, September 2017.

This would be a good time to request fishers to use barbless hooks. Please.

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PC: J. Honnert

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PC: J. Honnert

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PC: J. Honnert

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PC: J. Honnert

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Last week, it was reported that RH38 had returned to rehabilitative care at Ke Kai Ola on Hawaii Island. You may recall, RH38 spent time in rehab in 2017. Then, it was determined her poor health was due to a heavy parasite load. She was relieved of that burden, fattened up, and released back on Kauai. Earlier this year, she started showing signs again of declining health. In March, she was flown to Ke Kai Ola, where she is now. Things are not so clear-cut this time around. She’s even made news as the first Hawaiian monk seal to receive a CT scan. Read this press release from The Marine Mammal Center for details. Too, you will find more about RH38’s life on Kauai here and here and here and here.

Endangered Hawaiian monk seal rescued from Kaua‘i in critical condition at The Marine Mammal Center’s hospital for monk seals on Hawai‘i Island

(Kailua-Kona, Hawai‘i – April 23, 2019) – A Hawaiian monk seal rescued on Kaua‘i is currently in stable but critical condition at Ke Kai Ola, The Marine Mammal Center’s hospital and visitor center in Kailua-Kona that is dedicated to the endangered marine mammal. The Center’s veterinary experts have provided life-saving and supportive care, and continue to conduct extensive testing to find the cause of illness in the seal, a juvenile female known by researchers as RH38.

Initial tests by the Center’s veterinary team found that RH38 is suffering from weakness, infection, broad-scale inflammation and malnutrition. Veterinarians are still trying to pinpoint the cause of these symptoms.

“We’re incredibly concerned by RH38’s case as every individual is critical to this endangered population,” says Dr. Claire Simeone, The Marine Mammal Center’s Hospital Director at Ke Kai Ola. “We are committed to finding the cause of her illness and are using world-class expertise and medical techniques to keep RH38 alive and get her back to the wild.”

The Kaua‘i Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui monitored RH38 over the past year and routinely observed her in good body condition. In March, she began to rapidly lose body condition. She was rescued from Kaua‘i on March 12, 2019, and transported via U.S. Coast Guard flight to Ke Kai Ola.

During her initial critical care period, RH38 was tested for dozens of diseases, toxins and parasites. Veterinarians did not find any evidence of toxoplasmosis, leptospirosis, morbillivirus, or influenza, trauma, or poison, though they are not ruling anything out at this point.

Just recently, the Center’s staff and volunteers, along with a team from NOAA, transported RH38 to North Hawai‘i Community Hospital on Hawai‘i Island for a CT scan. The Center’s veterinary experts anesthetized her, and a scan was done on her entire body in order to more closely investigate the different organ systems that are showing signs of damage. This is the first CT scan ever performed on a wild Hawaiian monk seal. Veterinarians hope that the results will help pinpoint any underlying causes of her illness.

The opportunity to treat RH38 and investigate her illness allows scientists to learn even more about this endangered species and potentially understand how to better treat patients in the future. Any information gained from this case adds to the collective understanding about this critical species.

This is RH38’s second time in rehabilitation at The Marine Mammal Center. She was originally admitted to Ke Kai Ola in August of 2017 for malnutrition and a heavy parasite load. She more than doubled in body weight during her three-month rehabilitation and was successfully released back to Kaua‘i. Her current condition appears to be unrelated to her original admit.

Experts have no indication that this is a threat to the larger population of seals, but the marine mammal response team will continue to monitor the population in Kaua‘i.

“No additional sick or malnourished monk seals have been detected across the main Hawaiian Islands,” says Dr. Michelle Barbieri, a veterinarian with NOAA’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program. “We do not currently have any reason to believe that what is affecting RH38 is contagious to the rest of the population.”

The Marine Mammal Center has over 44 years of experience in marine mammal health and medicine, and has discovered and diagnosed many novel conditions in marine mammals. The Center’s veterinary team is bringing decades of knowledge and expertise to RH38’s case, as well as consulting with a variety of wildlife health experts around the world.

The Marine Mammal Center’s work in Hawai‘i is dedicated to the conservation of Hawaiian monk seals. The Center is a member of the Pacific Islands Region Marine Mammal Response Network and is responsible for monitoring the seals that haul out on Hawai‘i Island. The Center’s marine science program, Nā Kōkua o ke Kai, serves students in grades 6 through 8 and their teachers on Hawai’i Island. Through community outreach, education, response and animal care, our dedicated staff and volunteers are working to save a species.

The Marine Mammal Center has rehabilitated 27 monk seals since opening Ke Kai Ola in 2014, the majority of which were rescued from and returned to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The Center is proud to partner with NOAA to support conservation efforts for the Hawaiian monk seal. NOAA researchers estimate the current monk seal population to be about 1,400 animals, and about 30 percent of those monk seals are alive today directly due to conservation efforts led by NOAA and its partners.

HOW THE PUBLIC CAN HELP

Members of the public should keep a safe distance from monk seals and report sightings on Hawai‘i Island to the Center’s response team at the 24-hour hotline: 808-987-0765. On Kaua‘i, report monk seal sightings to 808-651-7668 or call NOAA’s statewide toll free hotline at 1-888- 256-9840.

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No sooner than RB00 weaned her pup and RL08 was tagged than eight-year-old RK52 gave birth to a healthy pup on April 9th. After several days of observation, it’s been reported that PK2 is a boy. That makes two males for 2019.

RK52 is proving to be a solid mother, consistently chasing away other curious seals such as chunky RL08 and several other juvenile seals in the area. She was rather tolerant of them being within 10 feet of the pup for the first week, but her patience seems to be wearing thin over the past week, and she is now consistently shooing away others seals with aggressive posturing and vocalizations. The pup is a strong swimmer and is quickly gaining weight. Both mom and pup are doing well.

You may recall that RK52 gave birth to a stillborn pup last year. As far as we know, this is her second pup.

Both pups of 2019 are descendants of the legendary RH58, called by many as Rocky. RH58 herself appears pregnant again this year. As does another Kauai regular, RO28, so we can likely expect a couple more pups this summer.

Here are a few images of PK2’s first days of life.

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PC: Gary Langley

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PC: Gary Langley

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PC: Gary Langley

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Field Report: March

Monthly Update:
The Kauai team logged 350 seal sightings in March. This included 38 individually identified seals.

March: 350
Feb: 303
Jan: 284
Dec: 153
Nov: 145
Oct: 203
Sep: 199

New:

  • Yearling female RKA6 was de-hooked by the Kauai team and immediately released. The hook was a large circle hook with 5 m of heavy monofilament trailing. The seal has fully recovered.

Updates:

  • Adult female RB00 weaned her pup after 54 days of nursing. He was tagged as RL08 in April.
  • RK58 was reared at Ke Kai Ola from August 4, 2018 until released on Feb 13, 2019 after a 3 day soft-release. The seal has remained in the release area, has shown no signs of interest in humans, and is interacting normally with other seals in the area. He also molted this month and lost his satellite tag. He was only 8 months old when he molted, which is unusual as the first molt is usually between 12-16 months of age.
  • Displacements: No seals were displaced from the keiki pool. However, adult female RK90 began hauling out at and spending the nights at a beach that’s considered unsafe due to trucks driving on the beach. Therefore, RK90 was displaced (with the proper NOAA approvals and staff) off the beach at sunset five times, twice along with adult male RK05. RK90 continues to return to this beach several times per week but has begun foraging at night again, eliminating the need for further displacement. Close monitoring of this beach continues.
  • Bleach markings: 3 were applied this month.
  • Molting: 2 seals molted this month.

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.

Read Full Post »

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PC: G. Langley

The numbers are in.

Last week, a couple days after weaning, PK1 was flipper-tagged. He is now known as RL08. His left flipper tag reads L08, and his right reads L09.

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PC: G. Langley

At the same time he was tagged, RL08 also received his initial vaccination to protect against morbillivirus. (Click here to learn more about the Hawaiian monk seal vaccination program.)

Too, Kauai’s newest weaner was measured—both in length and girth. As suspected, RL08 set some recent records.

The hefty weaner measured 145 centimeters in length—from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. His girth—the widest part of his body just below his fore flippers—rolled in at a ridiculous 143 centimeters. Basically, he’s almost as big around as he is long.

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PC: G. Langley

But how do those numbers compare?

For a variety of reasons, not all weaners get measured. However, the average length of 14 weaners (not including RL08) over the past six years, equaled 130.5 centimeters. The average girth of those same 14 weaners equaled 114.85 centimeters.

Let me repeat: RL08’s length came in at 145 centimeters and his girth at 143 centimeters.

He’s a big boy.

Based on the photos (thanks again, Gary), we knew that, right?

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PC: G. Langley

In some other good news, RK13’s pup from last year—RK42, who was last sighted the day she had a fishing hook removed from mouth on July 28—popped up last week on the southeast side of the island look quite healthy herself. What a relief.

RK42 proves that bigger doesn’t always equate to weaner survival. She was a fairly small weaner, measuring 126 centimeters in length and 100 centimeters around her girth when she was tagged last year. Go RK42!

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Just two days shy of eight weeks after giving birth, RB00 finally weaned her pup, PK1.

RB00 nursed for a grand total of 54 days. That’s the longest stretch of nursing days for a Kauai pup going back to and including data on pups since 2012. The previous record was 51 days set in 2017 by RK30, a well-known (and well-storied) mom. Her pup was RJ36. The year prior, in 2016, RK30 nursed her pup (RH38) for a total of 50 days.

The average number of nursing days for Kauai moms since 2012 is 42 days. Last year, RK30 nursed for 49 days while both RK28 and RO28 nursed their pups for 39 days each.

The shortest number of nursing days occurred in 2012 when RK13 weaned RL10 after 32 days. During her pregnancy, RK13 experienced two injuries consistent with shark bites that left her in smaller condition than her usual pregnancy weight.

Here are some of the very last photos of PK1 with RB00 and also a few from his first day on his own. Watch for one photo in particular that illustrates clearly why some people theorize that the moniker “monk” for these seals harken to the kind of hood some religious monks wear as part of their habit.

As always, thanks to Gary Langley for so generously sharing his photographs.

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