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On two consecutive days in July, two female Hawaiian monk seals hauled out onto the beach with heavy bellies and gave birth to pups. Since then, both pups have progressed as expected–nursing and gaining weight, losing their fetal folds; swimming in short bursts in shallow waters, then progressing to deeper water and longer swims. Now, pups are starting to molt their lanugo coats; as typical, most notably in their faces. There’s been no official confirmation of gender yet; however, typically, it takes longer to positively identify females. In the case of endangered Hawaiian monk seals, the more females, the better, so delays of this kind tend to bode well.

What follows are slide shows of PK4 and PK5. Both sets of photos were taken on August 12th. (FYI: Because PK3 was born  in a remote location, we do not have regular photo updates.)

Here’s RK28 and PK4, who was born on July 19th.

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And here’s RH58 (Rocky) and PK5, who was born one day later on July 20th.

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The Kauai team logged 239 seal sightings this month. This included 28 individually identified seals.

July: 239
June: 179
May: 262
April: 348
March: 350
Feb: 303
Jan: 284

New:

  • RK30 gave birth to PK3 on July 10 at a remote site along Na Pali coast that is accessible only by water. Kayak Kauai took signs out to post in key areas nearby.
  • RK28 gave birth to PK4 on July 19 at another remote location. Pup is thriving. Two stray German Shepherds were captured running loose near the newborn pup, on the day of birth and while RH58 was in labor.
  • RH58 gave birth to PK5 on July 20 just down the coast from RK28. With permission from NOAA, the Kauai team had to intervene and cut the umbilical cord to remove the placenta, which was still attached more than nine hours after birth.

Updates:

  • RH38 was released on July 22 after transport from Ke Kai Ola aboard a USCG C-130. Since then, she’s ranged across the North Shore and the Na Pali coast in the weeks following release and has showed no signs of interest in people on the beach or in the water.
  • The first two 2019 pups, RL08 and RL52, continue to thrive and range farther from their natal sites.
  • Displacements: 2 displacements occurred this month. Both were to remove S/F R7AA from the road edge. She was displaced a third time on Aug 1 from the Lawai Beach road edge as well.
  • Molting: 3 seals were observed molting this month.
  • Vaccinations: None given this month.

Research/Support of Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center

  • Sub-sampled scat, molt, placenta, 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.

In March, after RH38 seemingly shrank to nothing more than a sad bag of bones, she was scooped up and flown to Ke Kai Ola on Hawaii Island. There, after days turned into weeks and a few tests turned into dozens, she was finally rolled into another hospital–the North Hawaii Community Hospital–for a full-body CT scan. It was the first CT scan performed on a wild Hawaiian monk seal. It was then veterinarians were finally able to turn this touch-and-go patient’s health around, and a couple weeks ago, she became the 28th patient of the monk seal hospital to be admitted and returned to the wild. (See more here.)

These are photos of RH38 on the day she was admitted to Ke Kai Ola.

When the three-and-a-half-year-old RH38 was released back on a remote Kauai beach, she looked like a completely different seal. She’d undergone a molt while she spent four-and-a-half months in rehabilitative care at Ke Kai Ola, so her coat looked like she’d taken a side visit to a monk seal spa while she was away from Kauai. She also gained weight. Lots of weight. She was released tipping the scales close to three times what she weighed when she was admitted to Ke Kai Ola.

Here’s a slide show of RH38 making her way to the water on the day of her release. Note her excellent body condition. You wouldn’t know she was the same seal–except her flipper tags prove it.

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Since her release, RH38 has been exploring some of her favorite haunts. It’s as if she’d never left. Reports of her whereabouts have come in from the public, including one of some beachgoers approaching a little too close for RH38’s liking. Any time a wild animal spends time in rehab, one concern is whether she’ll show interest in humans upon her release. In RH38’s case, she hasn’t. And that’s a good thing. Maybe she got poked and prodded a little too much at Ke Kai Ola. But this is also a good reminder to encourage people to give monk seals–and all wild animals–plenty of space. When monk seals haul out on the beach, it’s for much needed rest, so when they return to the sea, they’re sharp and alert.

There’s another way biologists track RH38’s travels, and that’s by the satellite tag attached to her back, which is standard for monk seals released after care. (It’ll stay on until she next molts, if it doesn’t fall off sooner.) This allows biologists and veterinarians to keep a remote eye on her and evaluate her behavior. Here is a sample track of RH38’s recent whereabouts.

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If you’re wondering about those red lines seemingly on land, RH38 has not evolved into a terrestrial seal. Those are poor quality fixes, typical of satellite tags with wide accuracy ranges. But you get the basic idea. The good news is RH38 has been ranging up and down the coastline in a way consistent with wild Hawaiian monk seals.

Lastly, here’s a video of her release and immediate beeline for the water.

 

Here are a few recent photos of RL52. You may recall he was born earlier this year to first-time mom RK52. In the two-and-a-half months since he weaned, he’s thinned out, as expected; however, he’s still looking good. He’s been exploring more of the North Shore but can still often be found at his natal beach.

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PC: J. Thomton

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PC: J. Thomton

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PC: J. Thomton

The other seal in the photo below is R1NS, who is looking rather plump. It’s suspected she’s only three or four years old, but that’s an estimate, since she was first tagged as a young seal in the winter of 2017. The youngest confirmed age of a monk seal to give birth is four. (That was RI15 on Molokai.) So, either R1NS is pregnant, or she’s sleeping on a rock in such a way to make us think she looks like she’s pregnant!

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PC: J. Thomton

 

The Kauai team logged 179 seal sightings this month (262 in May, 348 in April, 350 in March, 303 in Feb). This included 32 individually identified seals.

June: 179
May: 262
April: 348
March: 350
Feb: 303
Jan: 284

New:

  • Two male seals, RG22 and R3CX. were displaced from Poipu. (This is always done by trained personnel.)
  • Two adult seals, male RN02 and female R1KY were displaced off a beach road at the end of the Burns Field runway at Salt Pond Beach Park. Lifeguards assisted by closing the road until displacement occurred. (Again, this is only conducted with prior approval and by trained personnel.)

Updates:

  • Discussions and plans were set in place this month for the return and release of RH38 in July.
  • 2019 pups RL08 and RL52 continue to thrive at various north shore beaches.
  • Displacements: 6 displacements occurred this month. Two of these displacements were from the keiki pool, subadult male R3CX, which was his 4thdisplacement, and subadult female R7AA, which was her second displacement.
  • Molting: no seals were observed molting this month.
  • Vaccinations: Pup RL52 was given a booster vaccination this month.

Research/Support of Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (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.

 

Predicting delivery dates of babies is hard. Without the aid of physical examinations and sonograms, it’s even harder to predict the birth dates of Hawaiian monk seals. And yet NOAA has gotten pretty darn good at it.

RK28 was expected to give birth around July 13th. She pupped on July 19th. (Note the “milk nose.” That’s one of the indicators that a pup has figured out how to nurse.)

PK4 Milk Nose

PC: VJBloy

PK4 in the Rain

PC: VJBloy

On the same day PK4 was born, two loose dogs were reported romping in the surf just down the beach from RK28 and pup. Thankfully, friendly people on the beach caught the dogs and prevented them from harming the seals. You may recall that RK28 lost a pup due to a dog(s) attack several years ago. You can read more about that tragedy here. So, this is a good opportunity to remind people not to let their dogs roam free.

One day later, RH58 gave birth to PK5.

RH58’s due date was predicted as August 1st, give or take. Instead, she pupped on July 20th. This was particularly challenging due date to estimate, since RH58, also known as Rocky, pre-weaned her pup last year after several pup-switches. You can read more about that here. But as these photos show, Rocky and pup are doing well and bonding nicely.

Rocky Napping on PK5

PC: VJBloy

PK5 and Rocky Napping

PC: VJBloy

PK5 Nursing

PC: VJBloy

 

Another one of Kauai’s regular “puppers” has added to the Hawaiian Monk Seal population.

PK3’s arrival was reported to the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui last Wednesday, July 10th. It’s not unusual for tour boat captains and kayak outfitters to alert us to new pups born in remote locations. This report came from Captain Rob. He also provided a photo, and in it, you can also see–if you squint really well–the remains of the afterbirth on the beach below the pup. This is a good indication the pup is quite young, maybe just hours old.

PK3 + K30

But the photo didn’t positively identify the mother. Based on the date and location (not identified here for the safety of the mom and pup); however, that narrowed the mother down to a couple suspected seals. Well, one, in particular.

Because the pupping site is in such a remote location, neither one of our NOAA/DLNR officials nor any of Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui volunteers were able to immediately respond to identify the mother. However, thanks to the work of one volunteer who is adept at searching social media, we now know the mother in question is none other than RK30.

It was one particular scar that confirmed RK30’s identity as the mother of PK3, as seen in an Instagram photo, that allowed her to be identified. The scar was that of an old entanglement wound from a line (rope) that once encircled her neck.

RK30 is somewhere around 20 years of age, give or take a year. She’s also one of the most storied monk seals around, having survived many threats to her life. Read more about RK30 here.

This is RK30’s 11th known pup.

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PC: @tripoverthings

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PC: @tripoverthings