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Monk Seal Monday (on Tuesday) #38

Maui recently reported the 30th pup born in the Main Hawaiian Islands this year. Thirty pups in one year is a record for the Main Hawaiian Islands, besting the previous high mark by a whopping nine pups. Turns out, the mom, R8HE, was flipper-tagged on Kauai as a juvenile. She’s estimated to be approximately six years old. This is her first known pup.

However, last year this time, we reported:

R8HE was a juvenile when flipper-tagged here in 2014, but she’s been regularly sighted around O‘ahu and reported as far away as Hawai‘i Island. Earlier this year, she appeared pregnant but then wasn’t seen for a couple months. She popped back up looking very thin, making HMSRP suspect she’d pupped in a remote place somewhere. (This happens even in the Main Hawaiian Islands.)

This kind of movement up and down the Hawaiian Island chain isn’t unusual. Some seals do like to journey long distances while others seem to stick to a few favorite haunts.

You may recall another voyager, R8HD, who seems to be making a tour of the Main Hawaiian Islands. He was sighted on Kauai, Oahu, and Molokai this summer. R8HD’s home place made national news recently when a hurricane roared through French Frigate Shoals. Various headlines reported one of the islands in the atoll was “wiped out,” “disappeared,” or “vanished” after taking a direct hit from Hurricane Walaka in early October. They were referring to East Island, an important pupping spot for Hawaiian monk seals and nesting site for Green sea turtles.

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Photo credit: Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument/NOAA.

East Island wasn’t large by island standards in the Main Hawaiian Islands, measuring some half-mile in length and 400-feet wide before the hurricane. Now, not much remains. However, as ocean currents move sand around, there’s a chance some of the “island” will return.

The submergence of East Island wasn’t unexpected. But it was sudden, taking climate scientists by surprise. With the intensity and frequency of tropical storms and hurricanes expected to increase due to climate change, this is one way climate change is directly affecting Hawaiian monk seals today. There’s likely to be more storms like Walaka charging through the Hawaiian archipelago. And there are dozens more islands and islets the size of East Island–and smaller–on which Hawaii’s native wildlife depend for survival. In addition to entanglements with marine debris, competition for food resources, and sharks, now climate change can be added to the list of threats facing Hawaiian monk seals today.

 

 

 

 

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On Friday, an email arrived on Kauai. It read: “RH92 has hauled at Kaupo Beach (Baby Makapuu) today.”

Kaupo Beach is found on Oahu.

What a surprise! Until last week, RH92 was regularly reported day after day hauling out on a narrow one-mile stretch of beach on the East Side of Kauai. Then, she made a longer trek, popping up on the South Shore. Now, she’s made the 70-mile jump over to Oahu.

Here’s a little background on the two-year-old RH92, a female.

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Photo credit: G. Langley

RH92 was born on the North Shore to RK22. A few months after weaning, some fishermen contacted DOCARE (Department of Conservation and Resources Enforcement), because a loose dog had attacked a small monk seal. An officer immediately responded, found the dog’s owner, and issued a citation. The seal, with multiple puncture wounds, turned out to be RH92 and was given antibiotics. Thankfully, her small punctures did not become infected and healed quickly.

Soon thereafter, RH92 ventured to Kauai’s East Side where, as a yearling, she began feeding on fish scraps in a canal. Because two other yearlings had drowned, possibly in nets, in the same canal in previous years, she was translocated her to the West Side of the island. Meanwhile, signs near the canal and boat launch were installed and fishers asked not to dump fish scraps in the area. Luckily, fishers complied, because RH92 quickly made her way back to the East Side within two weeks later. Since then, there’s been no problems.

RICOH IMAGING

Photo credit: M. Miyashiro

Too, RH92 has an impressive scar on her head from a large cookie cutter shark bite that happened last year. At the time, it was quite startling as her skull was visible. But she quickly healed.

It’s not unusual for Hawaiian monk seals to island hop. But RH92’s decision to cross an open ocean channel for Oahu was a surprise, suggesting she possibly followed an older seal. That’s not unusual for monk seals to do, too.

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Hawaiian Monk Seal Count Numbers

On Saturday morning, October 27, 2018, volunteers from around the Main Hawaiian Islands combed beaches, scanned coastlines, and reported any monk seal sightings between 9:00 and Noon.
Here on Kauai, a total of 13 seals were sighted. The sightings break down geographically this way:
South Shore: 8
North Shore: 2
East Side: 2
West Side: 1
This is what that data looks like on a pie chart.
20181101 October Monk Seal Count Results by Region
Statewide, a total of 56 Hawaiian monk seals were reported. That breakdown by islands looks like this:
Kauai: 13
Oahu: 19
Molokai: 20
Maui/Lanai: 4
Hawaii Island: 0
And like this on a pie chart.
Oct-18 Monk Seal Count Results
Over time, this graph shows the trend line of Hawaiian monk seals reported during these Hawaiian monk seal survey counts by island.
20181101 Monk Seal Count Graph
All this data comes with a giant asterisk behind it. The seals counted in this survey are usually only those identified. That almost always means they need to be hauled out on the beach. Too, counts can vary greatly depending on how many volunteers participate. The more trained volunteers who participate, the greater coverage around the island, the more seals found and reported. At least, that’s typically the case. Shoreline accessibility is also factor. Weather, too. And oceanic events. Human safety is first and foremost and, sometimes, big surf, for example, might preclude a specific coastline from being surveyed.
And, then, there’s the monk seals themselves, who can be pretty evasive, especially, it seems, whenever we want to count them;-)

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HMS_RH38_photo (7) by Laura Grote © The Marine Mammal Center_NOAA permit #18786 (1)

RH38 at Ke Kai Ola. Photo credit: L. Grote.

Last summer, when she was then one year old, RH38  started steadily losing weight. In August, she was transported by a US Coast Guard C-130 to Kona where she was examined by the team at Ke Kai Ola. RH38 was born to RK30 in 2016 and nursed for 50 days. She was the first Kauai seal to be treated at the Hawaiian monk seal hospital on Hawaii Island.

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RH38 in July 2017 before her visit to Ke Kai Ola. Photo credit: J. Thomton.

At Ke Kai Ola, it was discovered RH38 was heavily infested with tapeworms. Intestinal parasites are not uncommon in monk seals, and have been documented to inhibit growth and even cause death in young Hawaiian monk seals. After fattening up–from 88 lbs on entrance to 185 lbs at release–RH38 was flown back to Kauai last November. Shortly thereafter, she began the first of her annual molts.

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Since then, RH38 has behaved like a normal wild seal–and that’s good news especially whenever a seal is treated by humans. If a seal habituates to humans, they might start to interact with them in ways that are dangerous for the human as well as the seal.

At two-and-a-half years old, RH38 is regularly seen hauling out up and down the coastline along Kauai’s eastside. And as the buildup of green algae on the pictures below (taken today) indicate, she looks like she’s heading for her second annual molt in the coming months.

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RH38. Photo credit: L. Miyashiro.

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RH38. Photo credit: L. Miyashiro.

Earlier this summer, Kauai’s second seal headed to Ke Kai Ola for rehab. RK58, born to RH58, was not quite three weeks old when he was flown to Hawaii Island. (Read here to learn more about the unusual reason why he was sent to rehab.) RK58 is now learning how to catch live fish and will be returned to Kauai in the coming weeks. As with RH38, it’s absolutely vital that RK58 does not interact with humans upon his return, so he can live a long and wild seal life. We’ll share more about RK58 in the coming weeks.

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Field Report: September

Monthly Update:

The Kauai team reported 23 individually identified seals in September for a grand total of 199 seal sightings.

September: 199
August: 295
July: 414
June: 315
May: 332
April: 302
March: 299

Two things can heavily boost the number of reported sightings of monk seals throughout the month: The number of volunteers scouting beaches and the number of moms with pups on beaches around the island. Both these numbers tend to decrease in Fall and Winter months.

New:

A photo found on Instagram showed an adult seal at PMRF with mobbing wounds on the back. The wounds–indicating the seal is likely a female–appeared to be healing and looked similar to a seal reported previously on Niihau. Mobbing wounds are caused by male monk seals and have been observed in other females. The Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program reports this kind of male behavior can involve multiple males competing for an adult female or a single male targeting a younger seal. To read more about adult male aggression, click here.

The seventh Kauai pup for 2018 was born along Na Pali Coast. No photos have been received, but the report was confirmed by three reliable sources. Due to winter swells, it’s unlikely a team will be to assess or tag this mom/pup pair.

Bleach markings: 1 bleach mark was applied.

Molting: 3 seals molted at busy beaches this month.

Morbillivirus vaccinations: Two weanlings were booster vaccinated this
month.

Updated:

Last month, we reported that a male adult seal–flipper-tagged R8HD–had hauled out on a Kauai beach and per NOAA’s request be scanned for a PIT tag. A full-scan was surreptitiously performed while the seal slept but no PIT tag was detected. (Much like microchips inserted subcutaneously in dogs and cats, PIT, which stands for passive integrated transponder, tags are implanted in the posterior dorsum of most Hawaiian monk seals as a way to identify individual seals in case their unique flipper tags fall off.)

However, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program in Honolulu was able to identify him via photo-matching scars, and it was revealed R8HD was born in 1988 at French Frigate Shoals and his official ID is YF95. He moved to Laysan in 1995, and was retagged there in 1996. He was last sighted at Laysan in 2016. Then, in 2018 he surprisingly showed up tagless on Molokai where he was flipper-tagged for the third time. He next showed up on Oahu and, then, Kauai. He’s 30 years old, and he still looks in good condition. He was last reported on Kauai in early August.

Here are some images of the old guy taken on Oahu this past July. (Photo credit on all goes to B. Billand.)

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(Photo credit: B. Billand)

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(Photo credit: B. Billand)

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(Photo credit: B. Billand)

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(Photo credit: B. Billand)

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(Photo credit: B. Billand)

8HD_20180710_BBilland_09

(Photo credit: B. Billand)

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Malama Monk Seal #35: Another Pup

In mid-September, a few reports from boat captains cruising the northwest side of the island indicate that Kauai’s seventh pup for 2018 was born along the remote Napali coastline sometime around September 16th. Because winter swells are starting to impact this side of the island, it’s highly unlikely the mom will be identified nor will the pup be tagged after weaning. (The onshore break prevents humans from safely going ashore.)

Alas, there are no cute pictures!

But this could be a record year for known pup births on Kauai.

Monk Seal Count Day.

Saturday, October 27, from 9 to 12, is the annual Fall statewide count of Hawaiian monk seals. In addition to surveying for monk seals, it’s a good time to conduct educational outreach and pick up marine debris. (If there are large nets that need removing, please notify Surfrider NetPatrol at (808) 635-2593.) This event helps us monitor the population of Hawaiian monk seals around the islands and is also a good preparedness exercise in the unfortunate case of an island-wide emergency response situation. If you are a trained volunteer and are interested in participating, please call 808-651-7668.

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Monthly Update:
The Kauai team reported 33 individually identified seals in August for a grand total of 295 seal sightings this month. This equates to 9.5 seals sighted and reported each day.

August: 295
July: 414
June: 315
May: 332
April: 302
March: 299

New

  • A pup switch occurred for the first time on 7/20/18. RH58’s pup PK5 was forcefully taken by another mother RO28 who left her female pup PK4 alone on the beach. The Kauai team successfully reunited the correct moms with pups later that day. Another pup switch occurred on 8/2/18 when RH58’s pup PK5 was seen with another mother RK28 who had left her male pup PK3. Again, RH58 was alone but searching and calling for her pup. The Kauai team attempted to reunite the correct mothers to pups on 8/3/18. RK28 quickly took her pup PK3 back, however, RH58 rejected her pup and became aggressive toward him. The pup was left on the beach overnight in hopes that RH58 would reunite naturally. On 8/4/18, RH58’s pup PK5 was again found with RO28 at sunrise. RO28’s pup PK4 was nearby and began calling for her mother, who quickly left PK5 and rejoined PK4 without human interference. A final attempt at re-uniting PK5 with his mother RH58 occurred that morning of 8/4/18, however she continued to be aggressive toward the pup. The Kauai team captured PK5 (now permanent ID of RK58) mid-day on 8/4/18 and transported him to Lihue for USCG C130 transport to Ke Kai Ola for rehab.
  • Three seal pups weaned and were flipper tagged in August.
  • New adult male seal R8HD hauled out on Kauai after being flipper tagged on Molokai earlier this year. It was suspected this seal had been previously tagged, so the Kauai team was asked to scan the seal for a PIT tag, without disturbing the seal. A full scan was performed, no PIT tag was detected.

Updates:

  • The first pup of the year, now weanling RK42, was de-hooked by the Kauai team on 7/28/18. A large j-hook with 5’ of 100 lb test monofilament leader with swivel attached was removed from the right side of the seals mouth. The pup has not been resighted since de-hooking.
  • Bleach markings: No bleaches were applied.
  • Morbillivirus vaccinations: The North Shore pups RKA4 and RKA6 were fully vaccinated against morbillivirus.

Research/Support of PIFSC

  • Sub-sampled scat, molt, and tissue plug samples accordingly.

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