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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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Stories related to this research:

Motherload: The Story of a Fertile Turtle in the Hawaiian Islands

A Continuation of Motherload: The Story of a Fertile Turtle in the Hawaiian Islands

Punahele: A Green Sea Turtle’s Journey to “Destination Unknown”

Destination Known: Punahele’s Safe Return Home from Lalo

Turtle and Seal Biologists Deploy to Papahānaumokuākea for the 2022 Field Season

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Last week, a visitor exploring the coastline on the north shore of Kauai discovered two monk seals and called the Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui hotline. 

Because one of the seals was bleach-marked with a noticeable “V6” on its side, the seal was able to be identified as RQ60

RQ60 was born earlier this year. She was reported to be hauled out on rocks at a remote pocket cove near Princeville. This is the first sighting of her in this area. She weaned earlier this summer on July 15th and, almost immediately, started exploring the coastline beyond her natal beach.

Another Kauai seal, RK42 is on the move, too. RK42 was born in 2018 to one-time regular pupper RK13, and she was recently sighted off Molokai.

It’s not unusual for Hawaiian monk seals to seem to have favorite haunts; however, it’s also not unusual for them to explore far and wide. Read this post to learn more about the many Hawaiian monk seals with a Kauai – Kaena Point (Oahu) connection. 

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Earlier this year, a volunteer with mālama i nā honu reported a green sea turtle hauled out at Poipu had a large orange bobber and monofilament line encircling her right fore flipper. After examination and concern about the line cutting off circulation, the turtle was captured and flown to Maui Ocean Center where radiographs revealed a pathological fracture to the bone, requiring surgical amputation in order to save the turtle. 

After surgery and about three weeks of care, the turtle—sporting an identification of KA43—was returned to Poipu Beach and released. She immediately head for the water, making good strokes, and swam off. She has since been reported basking on the beach at Poipu. 

According to NOAA Sea Turtle Recovery Coordinator Irene Kelly, turtles with three flippers seem to do just fine, including making long migration swims. However, there can be some challenges. A male who loses a fore flipper may not be able to grasp a female properly during mating. A female who loses a hind flipper may not be able to dig a nest chamber. So reproduction success may be compromised.

The good news is KA43 is female, and she lost her right fore flipper, meaning she should be able to dig nest chambers just fine. 

Unfortunately, entanglements with fishing line and gear are on the rise in the main Hawaiian Islands. Thankfully, a group of divers are helping clean up harbors where sea turtles have been known to get entangled and die.

Hoʻmalu Ke Kai is a community organization dedicated to helping with the marine debris issue plaguing our island. They help with beach cleanups and, even, underwater cleanups at Kukuiʻula and Ahukini harbors. 

It takes a hui of concerned people to care for Kauai’s wildlife.

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The more surprising whale species spotted on extremely rare occasions in Hawaiian waters is the killer whale (Orcinus orca). In late August, Cascadia Research Collective sighted a group of killer whales off Kona and, for only the third time, were able to deploy a satellite tag on a single individual. A couple days after tagging, the research team re-located the individual and its group and witnessed as the killer whales tossed a dwarf sperm whale into the air in their successful pursuit of it. (Dwarf sperm whales can grow up to eight feet in length. Killer whales grow to an average of 20 to 26 feet.) Killer whales in Hawaiian waters are known to have a generalist diet, feeding on cephalopods, sharks, and other marine mammals.

As of September 24, the tag was still transmitting data, showing the group was still cruising the Hawaiian Islands. According to a Facebook post by Cascadia Research Collective, they have photo-identified 77 different individuals in Hawaiian waters. The satellite-tagged individual was confirmed to match a group seen off Kona a year earlier.

In 2008, an emaciated killer whale stranded at Brennecke’s Beach on the south shore and was euthanized. She was reported to be in extremely poor condition.

Click here to learn more about killer whales in Hawaiian waters.

Click on the link below to see photos and tracking maps of the tagged killer whale and its group.

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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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