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Recently, Hawaiian Airlines released this video. Please feel free to share it via your social media accounts.

Kauai’s first pup of 2021 was born on April 23rd. On September 10th, he received his official flipper tags–P32 on his left flipper and P33 on his right.

Thanks to regular reports by volunteers and interested beachgoers, we have a bit of a history of what the youngster’s been up to in recent months:

  • After weaning around June 16th, he hung around his natal beach for a few weeks.
  • Then, he started to explore coastlines south of his birth area.
  • On July 15th, he was bleach-marked “V1,” making it easier to identify him, though he also has a distinct natural bleach marks, too–white tip on his right fore-flipper and a big white spot on his right side. The combination of the three bleach marks made it easy to identify him.
  • On July 29th, P32 was found with an ulua hook in the corner of his mouth. Fortunately, it was superficial and he was able to free himself of the hook by August 5th.
  • Once RP20 was translocated to this same area, P32 was often seen interacting with his and pups from 2020, RM36 and RM58.
  • Starting August 29th, P32 went missing.
  • He reappeared on Sept. 10th and, at that time, he was outfitted with flipper tags. Now, he goes by the permanent identification of RP32.

PC: M. Olry and V. Poelzl.

Monthly Update: The Kauai team logged 213 seal sightings this month. This included 24 individually identified seals.

  • August: 213
  • July: 286
  • June: 218
  • May: 209
  • April: 155
  • March: 137
  • February: 119
  • January: 125
  • December: 119
  • November: 133
  • October: 152
  • September: 152
  • August: 198

New:

  • Adult female RK28 pupped at a remote beach on the north shore. The mother and pup (KP3) remain in the area and are thriving. A daily pup watch schedule has been established and pup zone set with numerous signs.
  • Displaced one seal, JF R2XW, from the Poipu Keiki pool as part of the Poipu seal management plan.  
  • Return of visitors continuing to cause increased disturbance to seals across the island. 

Updates:

  • The female pup RP20 born at Polihale and translocated elsewhere after weaning has remained in the release area; and has been sighted socializing with other juvenile seals on a daily basis.
  • 3-year-old male R1NI washed ashore dead at Palamas Beach on the south shore in April. Necropsy results are complete and no definitive cause of death has been determined. However, screenings for morbillivirus, toxoplasmosis, and other routinely screened pathogens were negative.
  • Subadult male seal RK58 was returned from KKO after 6 weeks of rehab and released on the north shore on March 26. He was treated at KKO for likely dog attack injuries that resulted in significant weight loss and infected puncture wounds. RK58 was finally resighted in August, on the east side of Kauai, and he is in good body condition.
  • Due to COVID-19 stay-at-home measures, our new methods of monitoring continue, which include:
    • Weekly surveys of key beaches conducted by Olry and Thomton.
    • DAR staff conducting weekly island wide Creel Surveys.
    • PMRF staff continuing to send in routine reports and photos.
    • Requesting that people who call the hotline to report seals assist us by sending several photos and setting-up SRA signs or sticks. 

Morbillivirus Vaccination: RP20 (KP2) received her booster vaccine this month.

Molting: 4 seals molted this month.

Volunteers:

  • The volunteer response program was restarted in June after being on hold since March, 2020. Currently, volunteers are dispatched for hauled out monk seal reports to post signs, assess and ID the seal, collect routine data, and then depart the area. Outreach/education should be as minimal as possible to reduce COVID exposure risk. For busy locations, a spot check schedule will be established. This technique has proven effective and will continue until further notice.
  • The training of new volunteers has been on hold due to COVID, Delta variant surging. Program information and followup emails sent to new recruits.

Research/Support of PIFSC:

  • Subsampled KP3 placenta for NOAA 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.

Six weeks ago, the newly-weaned RP20 was translocated from her natal beach at Polihale to a more appropriate location for a young monk seal learning how to be a monk seal–learning to forage, that is. During the translocation, she was flipper-tagged and given the first dose of a vaccine to prevent morbillivirus.

Now, six weeks later, P20 continues to do quite well. She’s been spotted nibbling on sea cucumbers, a meal she will soon eschew in favor of eel, lobster, and flat fish like flounder–once she gets a taste of the good stuff. In the first few days after her release, P20 was sighted approaching other monk seals, trying to nurse. However, that failed. Now, she’s resorted to just socializing with a variety of other monk seals, even holding her own against adult males.

She also received her booster vaccination, so she’s all set on that front, too. She’s off to a good start in life.

Here are some recent photos of her.

PC: Poelzl
PC: Poelzl
PC: Olry
PC: Megonnell

Welcome KP3.

The well known female RK28 gave birth to the third Kauai pup of the year last Thursday. This pup will be known as KP3 until it is eventually flipper tagged. This is RK28’s fourth consecutive year to pup in the same location at a remote beach on the north shore. Her previous pups are:

  • 2018: RKA4 – male
  • 2019: RL28 – female
  • 2020: RM28 – female

RK28 is the mother who lost her two-week old pup in a 2014 dog attack. We suspect she pupped elsewhere for a few years after this incident before returning to Kauai in 2018 to resume pupping.

Similar to the previous pup events in 2020 and 2021, our pup monitoring efforts will be curtailed due to COVID-19, however we are still hoping to conduct daily monitoring checks that focus on adjusting signs, assessing the health of the pair, and taking photos. Outreach to beach users is not the objective, and fortunately the location is remote with just a few people on the beach day. Those interested in assisting with the daily checks should call 808-651-7668. 

These rules may change as DLNR adjusts volunteer protocols due to the current spike in COVID cases.

PC: M. Olry
PC: M. Olry
PC: M. Olry

RK58 Sighting.

Finally, after four-and-a-half months, subadult male seal RK58 was re-sighted! Earlier this year, K58 spent six weeks at Ke Kai Ola, the Monk Seal Hospital, on Hawaii Island due to injuries sustained in a suspected dog attack that resulted in significant weight loss and infected puncture wounds. After treatment, K58 was flown back to Kauai, released on March 26, and not known to have been seen since. That is, until August 11th when a visitor–George–saw K58 and took this photo. George went home, checked out our website, saw the history of K58, and realized he had made a very important discovery: K58 is alive and well. Thanks, George! And thank goodness for readable field tags on those rear flippers!

PC: G. Egbert

Monthly Update: The Kauai team logged 286 seal sightings this month. This included 29 individually identified seals.

  • July 286
  • June: 218
  • May: 209
  • April: 155
  • March: 137
  • February: 119
  • January: 125
  • December: 119
  • November: 133
  • October: 152
  • September: 152
  • August: 198
  • July: 120

New:

  • A subadult male seal (ID: temp606) was found with a medium size circle hook and 9 feet of heavy trailing line. The line was trimmed, leaving 3 feet trailing. Five days later the seal we resighted hook-free, indicating the seal threw the hook on its own.
  • The weaned male pup KP1 was found with a medium size circle hook and 4 inches of heavy trailing line. The hooking was not life threatening and was monitored. Seven days later, the seal was hook-free, indicating this seal threw the hook on its own, too.
  • Instagram video submitted to NOAA of a female monk seals being mobbed by male seals off Lehua.  Kauai staff notified PMRF biologists to look out for this seal, plan to assess and treat seal if found.
  • Displaced two seals from the Poipu Keiki pool as part of the Poipu seal management plan.    
  • Return of visitors continuing to cause increased disturbance to seals across the island. 

Updates:

  • The female pup born at Polihale successfully weaned after 37 days of nursing. Daily pup monitoring by staff and volunteers minimized disturbance by trucks on the beach, surfers, swimmers, and campers. Due to the high risk posed by reckless beach driving common at Polihale, a thorough risk analysis was conducted to assess hazards the weaned pup would face after the mother departed. The analysis concluded that translocation from Polihale Beach to another remote beach was the safest management option for the pup. Therefore, the pup was captured, transported, flipper tagged, and vaccinated by the Kauai team, and released at another safer location. The seal is now tagged RP20, has remained in release area, and has been sighted socializing with other juvenile seals on a daily basis.
  • Flipper tagging and morbillivirus vaccination for pup KP1 are planned for August. 
  • 3-year-old male R1NI washed ashore dead on the south shore in April. Gross necropsy did not reveal much, awaiting histopathology lab results.
  • Subadult male seal RK58 was returned from KKO after 6 weeks of rehab and released on March 26. He was treated at KKO for likely dog attack injuries that resulted in significant weight loss and infected puncture wounds. Still no re-sightings of him since release.
  • Due to COVID-19 stay-at-home measures, our new methods of monitoring continue, which include:
    • Weekly surveys of key beaches conducted by NOAA and DLNR staff
    • DAR staff conducting weekly island wide Creel Surveys
    • PMRF staff continuing to send in routine reports and photos
    • Requesting that people who call the hotline to report seals assist us by sending several photos and setting-up SRA signs or sticks. 

Morbillivirus Vaccination: RP20 (KP2) received her initial vaccine this month.

Molting: 4 seals molted this month

Bleach Marking: 1 seal was bleach marked this month.

Volunteers

  • The volunteer response program was restarted in June after being on hold since March, 2020. Currently, volunteers are dispatched for hauled out monk seal reports to post signs, assess and ID the seal, collect routine data, and then depart the area. Outreach/education should be as minimal as possible to reduce COVID exposure risk. For busy locations, a spot check schedule will be established. This technique has proven effective and will continue until further notice.
  • The training of new volunteers has been on hold due to COVID, but has now resumed.

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.

A news report broadcast earlier today confirmed a novel strain of morbillivirus killed a Fraser’s dolphin that stranded on Maui in 2018. Elsewhere in the world morbillivirus has killed hundreds of dolphins and/or whales. While only one dolphin has been confirmed to die of the highly infectious morbillivirus, it’s for the potential to spread to monk seals that NOAA vaccinates Hawaiian monk seals against morbillivirus.

Good news: KP1 has thrown his hook. Last week, on the heels of the news of a hooked Temp 606, KP1 turned up with a fish hook in his mouth. In both cases, the hookings were determined to be non-life-threatening. Rather than risk handling–and injuring–a wild animal, the seals were left untouched. And in both cases, the animals managed to help themselves by throwing their own hooks without the aid of human intervention.

WARNING: But not all monk seals seem to be helping themselves and their own species’ survival. The video below illustrates the phenomenon known as “male mobbing” in Hawaiian monk seals. It’s a disturbing turn of events, and you may not wish to watch it.

This interaction generally but not always takes place between a group of males, generally competing sub-adult males, and a single female and is called male mobbing.

In 2016, RK28 was observed with large wounds and abscesses on her back. It was determined these wounds were caused by male monk seals who had attempted to mount her and while doing so, biting her repeatedly on the back. The wounds can be severe and certainly disturbing-looking to our eyes. For good reason, it turns out.

According to the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center’s website, “Events involving multiple and single adult male Hawaiian monk seals exhibiting aggression towards adult females and immature seals has led to a significant number of severe injuries and deaths. Unfortunately, the loss of even a single female, and the loss of her lifetime reproductive potential, represents a significant setback to population recovery of this endangered species.”

Also from the NOAA PIFSC website:

Over an 11 year period from 1984-1994, 37 male seals were selectively removed from Laysan Island to restore a balanced sex ratio. These seals were translocated to Johnston Atoll (n=9) or the main Hawaiian Islands (n=21), placed into captivity (n=5), or died (n=2). Following removal, instances of injury or death from multiple male aggression events drastically declined. The removal of these males from the Laysan Island population has contributed to the restoration of a balanced sex ratio and has proven a valuable mitigation strategy.

Single male aggression events have most notably occurred at French Frigate Shoals and more recently at Kure Atoll. Intervention efforts include hazing of identified aggressors, translocating pups from areas where aggressive males frequent, treating injured seals when appropriate and removal of the adult male. The 3 adult males at French Frigate Shoals observed to repeatedly target pups, were translocated to Johnston Atoll (n=2 in 1998) or euthanized (n=1 in 1991). One adult male was brought into permanent captivity in 2013 after he had been observed injuring pups at Kure Atoll. This mitigation strategy effectively reduced pup deaths as a result of adult male aggression at this site.

To read more about adult male aggression, click here. And if you see a female with fresh wounds on her back, please report it to the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal hotline at 808-651-7668. This will allow the animal’s health to be assessed. If the injuries are severe, she may be treated with antibiotics to prevent the wounds from becoming infected. Keep in mind, Hawaiian monk seals have an amazing natural ability to heal. We’ve seen it time and again.

In the past couple weeks, two Hawaiian monk seals have rolled out of the sea trailing fishing line behind them. Thankfully, observant bystanders and dedicated volunteers provided reports and photographs and numerous text messages for NOAA and DLNR to craft an appropriate response plan.

It started with this untagged juvenile male. Some beachgoers witnessed him fighting a hook along a beach shoreline and called the hotline. Volunteers in the area were alerted. A couple days later, one volunteers found him hauled out high on a beach, tucked under some bushes. Photographs showed fishing gear extending from his mouth, but it was unclear whether the hook was stuck in his mouth or whether he had swallowed it.

This image has been highly cropped.

The next day, more photographs revealed, thankfully, the eye of the hook extending from his mouth. This was good news; it meant the situation wasn’t life threatening. Too, four feet of line was trimmed to reduce the chance of entanglements. But he wasn’t out of the woods yet. There was still a chance the hook was embedded in his jaw, leading to possible infection. But, as seals do, he took off for the water and disappeared for a couple days. When he was next sighted, the hook was gone–he’d somehow dislodged the hook. This was the best result of all.

But with the discovery of this seal–given the identification of Temp 606–having thrown his hook, another seal was reported to be hooked. This one our first weaner of the year–KP1.

PC: D.Megonnell

KP1 was born on April 23rd of this year. This is his first known hooking. Photographs clearly reveal the hook, lodged in his lip, is not life threatening. If he hasn’t already, he will eventually throw this hook, as well.

Now is a good time to remind volunteers–and interested beach-goers–to take a visual health assessment of any and all monk seals encountered on the beach. Binoculars and cameras with super-telephotos lenses are super helpful to see any possible fishing gear extruding from the mouth area. Another indication of possible hooking is the appearance of fishing line trailing and/or wrapping around a seal’s body.

Also, please remember: If you happen to hook a monk seal–or witness one–please report the hooking (and fishing gear) to the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui, so an appropriate response can be implemented. Anonymous reports are fine. Call the Kauai hotline at 808-651-7668.

As Tuesday, July 20, 2021 rolled around, Kauai’s second pup of the year was found on the beach alone. After 37 days of growing round from nursing, it appeared the pup had been weaned. Hawaiian monk seal mothers spend the entirety of their young pup’s life right by their side, not venturing out to replenish their lost fat stores from birth and weeks of nursing. Eventually, quite thin and hungry, they finally wean their pups to perpetuate their own lives.

But MK2 wasn’t quite gone. Later that afternoon, she returned to her pup. She left again during the night, this time, for good.

Unfortunately, the waters off Polihale can be rough with an on-shore break and strong current. Not a great place for a young “weaner” to learn how to be a monk seal.

So, on Thursday, July 22, 2021, a very plump KP2 was moved to another location with an off-shore reef and the kind of coastline that allows for a Hawaiian monk seal weaner to learn how for forage on her own. Yes, her. In moving her, it was clear that KP2 is female. Upon release in her new location, KP2 was also flipper-tagged and vaccinated. She is now officially RP20. Her left flipper has the tag P20 and her right P21.

Here’s a video of RP20 headed to the water a few minutes after being tagged.

Today, he (yes, male) made 36 days old. KP2 and MK2 have stuck close to the Queens Pond area of Polihale and are currently slightly south of the popular swimming area. Speaking of swimming, KP2 is less of a swimmer than many other pups, being somewhat reluctant to go in the water. When he does, he always has an eye on the beach. Remember, there is little off-shore reef along this coastline. Often, MK2 has to coax KP2 away from the shore break about 50 yards to explore the few rocky/coral heads just offshore. That’s when his rear flippers can be seen flopping in the air as he attempts to dive down and investigate. However just like with other blubbery pups, he floats like a cork and hasn’t mastered how to overcome his buoyancy. The crowds at Polihale have been smaller than usual and nearly everyone has been respectful to volunteers, staff, and, most importantly, mother and pup. Based on MK2’s body condition, it’s expected she’ll wean KP2 sometime this week. It’s fairly common for most pups to wean about the 40-day-old mark.

Polihale is an unusual place for monk seals to pup. The last known pupping here was 1962. According to the brief notes/records from that era, the pup was abandoned by its mother. It was taken to Oahu and turned over to state wildlife officials, but unfortunately did not survive.