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Posts Tagged ‘field report’

In November, the Kauai team logged 239 seal sightings. This included 35 individually identified seals. Here’s a look at how the 239 number compares to other months.

November: 239
October: 225
September: 354
August: 236
July: 335

As a reminder, there are numerous reasons that can effect the number of reported seal sightings. Two big ones are the availability of our steadfast volunteers taking their daily beach walks, and the presence of moms with pups and the subsequent “pup sitting” we do. Of course, the seals themselves play a factor in this, too. Maybe there’s some seasonality in foraging that takes them to remote areas of the island where we don’t see them. That’s the thing with animals that spend the majority of their lives at sea–we don’t quite know.

Other November news to note:

  • Seal activity continues around Poipu Beach Park with seals swimming among swimmers, snorkelers and the water aerobics class and hauling out on the beach amidst beach-goers. Our advice continues to be for everyone involved to give the animal its space and never approach, touch, harass, disturb it. Remember: Monk seals are wild animals; let’s keep them that way.
  • One additional monk seal received its morbillivirus vaccination in November. This virus, similar to distemper in dogs, has not infected the monk seal species. But in a proactive effort to combat an outbreak, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Science Program started vaccinating seals last year. To learn more about the threat of morbillivirus, read this Smithsonian article.
  • Two seals “bleach-marked” this month–RG22 as V22 and R340 as V77. To learn more about using Clairol to help identify individuals seals, read this previous #MonkSealMonday report.
  • Four seals completed their molts in November, including: RH38, RG58, RK14, RH80. To learn more about molting in Hawaiian monk seals, read this previous #MonkSealMonday report.
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PC: B. Becker

In September, two Hawaiian monk seals were outfitted with dive recording tags that not only capture the seals’ location but time spent hauled out, time at the surface of the sea, and time spent (and depth of ) diving. Data from the tags is transmitted whenever the seals come within range of a cell phone tower. The instruments tags were affixed to the middle of the seals’ backs using an epoxy. When the seals next molt, the tags will fall off.

This first graphic shows the movement of the two tagged seals. The yellowish-green dots represent R1KT, a male. The red dots represent R7AA, a female. The graphs give us a look into three week’s worth of these two seals’ lives.Slide1In the graph on the right, we see the depths of R7AA’s dives. She records several dives in excess of 150 meters, but the vast majority of her dives log at under 100 meters of depth.Slide2

On the other hand, the majority of R1KT’s dives record upwards of 150 meters. There are numerous factors that could explain the differences. One, age. R7AA is a juvenile; whereas, R1KT is older. Too, underwater topography may affect their dive depths. Generally, according to science, monk seals like to forage on or near the ocean floor. They are generalist feeders and their diet includes a variety of fishes (eels, wrasses, squirrelfish, soldierfish, triggerfish, parrotfish), cephalopods (octopus and squid), and crustaceans (crab, shrimp, and lobster). Diet studies indicate they prefer prey that hides in the sand or under rocks, unlike most of the locally popular game fish (e.g. ulua, papio and ʻoʻio) and the proportion and type of prey consumed varies significantly by island, year, age and sex. Slide3

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We have three pups in three stages.

Hawaiian monk seal flippers up

Photo credit: V. Bloy

G13 weaned after 43 days, and is exploring the reef, spending much of her time in the water like this–sticking her head under rocks and crevices. She’s also sporting spiffy flipper tags–G12/G13. This is the time of her life where she’s figuring out what’s good to eat. She’s likely snacking on things such as sea cucumbers that won’t continue to be part of her regular diet. G13 has a good store of fat. Hunger is not yet driving her to forage far and wide. She continues to hang out near her natal beach but is starting to range a bit more. As she gets more confidence, stronger, and hungrier, she will forage outside the reef farther off-shore, and we’ll find her hauled out on beaches elsewhere on Kaua`i.

Hawaiian monk seal pup V22RK22 weaned PK2 after 41 days of nursing. Likewise, he is healthy and plump and sticks close to the beach where he was born. The two weaners have even been sighted rolling in the shallow water together. Shortly after PK2 was weaned, he was bleach tagged on his side as “V22.” Soon, he’ll get flipper tags.

Both weaners are often visited on the beach by various males, including R8HY, RK05, T320, among others.

Hawaiian monk seal mom and pupRO28 continues to nurse PK3, who can get quite vocal when he’s hungry, and has even been known to vocalize while he’s nursing–as well as, fall asleep while receiving his regular nutritious nourishment. His girth is nearly the same as his mother’s, as she has not feeding during these past four weeks. This is normal monk seal biology. It’s her own hunger that will finally force 028 to wean her pup. When she does, PK3 will be on his own, swimming the seas and mastering seal life.

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