(P)update 2017: #3

20170607 K22 and PK1 Thomton

RK22 and two-week old PK2. (PC: Thomton)

These days, mom (RK22) and pup (PK2) are spending more and more time in the water and hauling out up and down the beach, resting at the waterline during the day and, then, galumphing up higher at night. PK2 is growing; however, still sticks close to mom when sleeping.

Mom continues to be protective and vocalizes at people who get too close (her comfort distance with a pup on the beach seems to be about 50 feet, although we recommend 150 feet minimum). While lounging on the beach, she appears to be sleeping; however every 30 seconds she very slightly opens her eyes to survey the beach and nearby waters for potential threats to her pup. Those threats are primarily sharks and other monk seals, however snorkelers and swimmers are often confused as threats as well.

Please remember to give all monk seals, especially moms with pups, extra space. Stay downwind, out of their line of sight, and camouflaged behind bushes when possible.

20170607 K22 and PK1 3 Thomton

RK22 and two-week old PK2. (PC: Thomton)

20170607 K22 and PK1 2 Thomton

RK22 and two-week old PK2. (PC: Thomton)


20170607 R336 Male Thomton

A cruising male (R336) stops by to investigate mom and pup. (PC: Thomton)



(P)update 2017: #2

What’s better than one pup? It’s two! The day after RK22 gave birth, another reliable mother, RK30 also pupped. This one, we know, is a male. Here are a few pictures of the one-week-old pup, known as PK2.


(P)update 2017 #1


RK22 and PK1 (Day 1). Photo credit: Honnert

It’s a pup!

Kauai’s first pup of the year was born one week ago today to RK22, who surprised us by pupping earlier than we anticipated. What’s more, she pupped on the same day as last year. Her pup goes by “PK1” until it will be banded after mom weans it in a few weeks.

PK1 has spent the last week learning how to nurse and swim–but sticking close to mom. Those two activities along with sleeping make up the little pup’s days.

PK1 Four Days Old

RK22 and PK1 (Day 4).

More new seals for Kauai.

On March 28 a juvenile male seal was first sighted on the North Shore. His only remarkable scar was a small cookie cutter shark bite on his left mid side. He quickly became a regular, so a team was put together to tag him with flipper tags 3CD and 3CE, making his official ID R3CD. He also received a morbillivirus vaccine.


PC: Thomton

A new adult female seal with a small pit scar on her right mid side also started to appear on the rocks at Brenneke’s beach, and continues to rest there regularly. She was bleach marked V76, and received her first morbillivirus vaccination.

RG22 dehooked.


PC: Thomton

On April 16, visitors snorkeling at Mahaulepu called the hotline to report that they had cut free a seal entangled on coral. They sent a video that identified it as juvenile male, RG22. The next day, he was sighted at Palamas, so a team was assembled to respond. Fortunately, even sporting the biggest hook we’ve ever come across, the team was able to cut and remove the hook that pierced the left corner of his mouth. The fishing gear was a slide bait rig used for ulua fishing and included the bait that looked like a Hawaiian white eel or Conger eel, known locally as Tohei.

RH92 returns to Lihi Canal.

RH92 (Dennis Fujimoto)

PC: Fujimoto

After wildlife biologists and veterinarians relocated 10-month-old RH92 on March 30th from the Lihi Canal in Kapa‘a to a beach on the island’s west side, we’d hoped she would stay away from the canal. Unfortunately, she returned to the canal along with an adult seal (RK13). Together they’ve been seen feeding on small fish in the manmade waterway along with discarded fish parts. The return of RH92 to Lihi is prompting stepped-up public awareness and outreach and potentially enforcement of littering laws for fishermen who dispose of fish parts in the water.

Seals of concern.

RN02, subadult male, has demonstrated increased curiosity of people, pursuing swimmers and following the public up the beach. He is also interacting with scuba divers, taking fish from skin divers at Koloa Landing. He then hauled out on the boat ramp, undisturbed by divers walking past him to enter and exit the water. RN02 was displaced from the ramp using crowding boards. RN02’s curiosity also proved dangerous with marine debris, found around his neck, which he later escaped on his own. We hope this is just a part of reaching sexual maturity, but we are considering ways to curb his behaviors.

Another incident of concern made the evening news (click here) in which a dog owner should have moved away from the seal, but instead engaged the seal, and endangered both his pet dog (on a leash) and the seal.

Kauai Vaccinations have begun for 2017.

This year we will include females (except those within two months of pupping) in our morbillivirus vaccination program. This includes 18 males and 26 females. Coordinators will be busy trying to find these seals to give initial vaccines and boosters 3-5 weeks later, so we appreciate all your sightings!

Field Report: Winter 2017

The winter of 2017 has turned out to be busy for the Kauai HMS Conservation Hui.


Photo credit: Miyashiro

In January a new juvenile female seal was sighted. She has what appears to be a healed cookie cutter shark bite behind her left eye. She also has a pit scar on her right mid side. She was originally sighted on Ni’ihau and is officially R347.

In February five more juvenile female seals were sighted. Four of them were bleach marked and/or flipper tagged, so we can track and monitor them, especially since several of them are fairly clean of scars or natural bleach marks can often be used to identify untagged seals.

One with a faint scar behind her left eye was entered into the monk seal registry as R351 and bleach marked V73. A week later, using her bleach mark to identify her, she turned up on Molokai.

A youngish female popped up on the east shore several times, with a distinguishable natural bleach mark on the tips of her left fore flipper. She was flipper tagged and is now 1NS.


Photo credit: Miyashiro

On the west shore, a juvenile female was bleached V75 and flipper tagged as 1KM.

Two more female yearlings were found on the west shore, one of which was bleached as V2.


Photo credit: Thomton

In February, RN02, a subadult male who was translocated from Big Island to Niihau in 2013 after he repeatedly interacted aggressively with swimmers, was sighted with blood near his mouth. A visual examination revealed a small hook and approximately six inches of monofilament fishing line along his gum line. Consultation was made with a marine mammal vet, and it was determined the hook would likely loosen and fall out on its own. Thus, no intervention was deemed necessary at the time.

Sadly, a well-known Kauai seal was found dead in late February. R4DP, a female, was approximately 15 years old. She was first tagged on Kauai in 2008. That same year she was flown to Oahu for examination for suspected ingestion of a fish hook. Upon examination, no hook was found, and she was returned to Kauai and released. Unfortunately, after necropsy, it was determined R4DP’s injuries were inconsistent with natural causes. Thus, as a marine mammal protected by the Endangered Species Act, her death is being investigated by law enforcement officials.

This is the 11th “suspicious death” of a monk seal since 2009, and the first since 2014.  Anyone having information related to the death of R4DP or any other suspected monk seal death should call the NOAA OLE hotline at 1-800-853-1964 or DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) at (808) 873-3990 or 643-DLNR.

2016 Pup Update:

Weaned pup updates RH80 continues to appear on the north and east coasts of Kauai, looking healthy. Also, for the first time since she was flipper tagged last summer, RH38 popped up on the North Shore, also looking healthy.


Photo credit: Miyashiro

RH92 is looking good, too, although she turned up with a cookie cutter shark bite on the right side of her head. Though it is the usual 3” circular wound, it appears very large on her small head and looks deep. Fortunately the bite missed vital structures of her eye and ear. Monk seals have an amazing capacity to heal from large wounds on their own. RH92 is healing fine, and the wound will likely shrink to a small pit scar. Of greater concern for RH92 is that she was found for the first time hanging out near a small boat landing, foraging and eating a fish, likely scraps tossed out by fishermen. This is a good reminder not to throw fish and scraps into the water, especially if a seal is present.

Lihi Canal

Happy Year of the Monk Seal!

underwater-monk-sealAccording to the Chinese Zodiac, 2017 is the year of the Rooster. But for the NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands, this year belongs to the Hawaiian monk seal, a NOAA Fisheries Species in the Spotlight.

In commemoration of 10 years since the publication of the revised Recovery Plan for the Hawaiian Monk Seal, NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center and NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office are announcing that 2017 is the “Year of the Monk Seal.” This campaign will be comprised of a series of recovery actions, cutting-edge research, and public events targeted at building awareness and momentum for the next 10 years and more of monk seal recovery.

The Year of the Monk Seal is also a celebration of a new, positive population estimate for the species. The most recent annual population assessment shows that the Hawaiian monk seal, bucking past trends, has increased in numbers by 3% annually for the past three years. The population is now estimated to be around 1,400 seals — about 1,100 seals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NHWI) and 300 seals in the main Hawaiian Islands (MHI).

The population overall has been declining for over six decades and current numbers are only about one-third of historic population levels, but, importantly, the prolonged decline has slowed over the last 10 years, thanks in many ways to recovery efforts. In fact, all of the major seal populations in the NWHI are either stable or growing, and an estimated 30% of the seals alive today are here because they benefited from a lifesaving intervention or are the child or grandchild of a female that benefitted.

Over the last decade, NOAA Fisheries, along with numerous partners, including the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, U.S. Coast Guard, and others, have engaged in concerted research and recovery efforts to save monk seals, particularly young female seals. These efforts included:

  • At least 297 interventions to help mother and pup monk seals survive
  • Removing 847,907 kg (848 metric tons) of entangling marine debris by our NOAA Marine Debris team and partners
  • Disentangling 57 seals from debris and nets
  • Rescuing 15 seals that had become entrapped and were unable to free themselves
  • Rehabilitating 17 undernourished seals at The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola monk seal hospital (and another 2 prior to the hospital’s opening)
  • Responding to 38 seals to help remove hooks in the field and undertaking 16 surgeries to remove hooks that had been ingested
  • Implementing a program to vaccinate wild monk seals against the deadly morbillivirus
  • Continuing to engage local communities to help build a culture of coexistence with seals and people in the main Hawaiian Islands

Additionally, during Hawaiian monk seal haul outs and pupping events in the MHI, the Marine Mammal Response Network’s team of volunteers worked quickly to set up seal protection zones, monitor the situation and report any issues, and engage the public with information about the species and its endangered status.

Though the new population estimate is encouraging and the species appears to be moving in the right direction, monk seals still face numerous threats and will likely experience ups and downs on the road to full recovery. This year, PIFSC and PIRO are reaffirming their commitment to monk seal conservation with State and Federal partners.

The Year of the Monk Seal will bring a variety of events — including various informal discussions or “talk story” sessions across the MHI, a screening of a monk seal documentary at Waikiki Aquarium, and collaborations with local businesses and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) — to thank public and private partners, engage local communities, raise awareness of the plight of monk seals, and push forward on the next decade of monk seal recovery. Numerous other exciting partnerships and activities will occur throughout the year, and they will be announced as the year progresses.

Happy Year of the Monk Seal!

2016 Year End Review

2016 Total Numbers for Kauai Marine Mammal Response Network

We tallied the efforts of our 70+ member volunteer network over the past year and are excited to share the numbers with all of you. The gradual increase in seal sightings and numbers clearly show that monk seals are doing well in the Main Hawaiian Islands. We want to emphasize that it is the efforts of our volunteers that make this possible!

  •   Grand sightings total: 3,236 (8.9/day) monk seal sightings on Kauai in 2016 (3,321 in 2015 or 9.1 seals/day)!
  •   Kauai population: 56 unique individual seals sighted in 2016 (53 in 2015).
  •   Births: 3 seal pups born on Kauai, all females. One female (RK14) was observed with pup on Ni’ihau. RW06 miscarried early term again, as she did last year at Poipu.
  •   Ni’ihau Seals: sighted 6 new seals in 2016 likely from Ni’ihau (down from 14 in 2015). The Kauai team flipper tagged one of these new juveniles (R7GM).
  •  Bleach marking effort: 26 bleach marks were applied

    Stranding Responses in 2016:

    8 monk seal stranding responses:

  •   RW06 – aborted fetus at Poipu. Infection of RW06’s uterus the likely cause.
  •   RG13 – juvenile female found dead in a Kapaa canal.
  •   NG00 – removed circle hook from lip on beach.
  •   RF28 – captured and transported to Oahu for surgical removal of hook.
  •   RF30 – captured and transported to Oahu for surgical removal of hook.
  •   R8HY – removed circle hook from cheek on beach.
  •   R7GM – removed circle hook from cheek on beach, and flipper tagged.
  •   RH92 – treated seal with antibiotics after dog-attack injuries.
  •   Temp322 – ingested circle hook based on pigtail leader and corkscrew swivel coming from mouth. Unable to capture seal. Later sighted without line/hook.

    3 Cetacean responses:

  •   1 spinner dolphin carcass retrieved and shipped to Dr. West.
  •   1 pilot whale carcass field necropsied with Dr. West.
  •   1 large whale carcass was reported and tracked as it floated nearshore PMRF until drifting away at sea. Likely a humpback whale carcass.