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If you’ve heard about the storm that Kauai weathered over the weekend, some of you may be wondering about our Hawaiian monk seals. (If you haven’t heard about the storm, you can read more about it here.)

The Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui does not deploy volunteers to dangerous situations–during storms or otherwise–and didn’t yesterday, either; however, the general public reported four seals hauled out on southern and western shores yesterday. They were all reported to be fine. The brunt of the storm hit Kauai’s north shore. Obviously, monk seals are marine mammals and are much better adapted to handle rising waters than we mere humans.

Now, for the March Field Report:

Sightings:

The Kauai team logged 299 seal sightings this month. This included 30 individually identified seals.

March: 299
Feb: 259
Jan: 336
Dec: 270
Nov: 239
Oct: 225
Sep: 354

New

  • AF (Adult/Female) R376 was observed on Poipu Beach with bait trailing from her mouth and with a significant loss of weight since her previous sighting six weeks prior, suggesting she’d ingested a fish hook. With 13 volunteers assisting, a trained response team crowded her into transport carrier, and she was moved to DOFAW baseyard in Lihue to await arrival of an Oahu veterinary team. A fish bone was discovered to be lodged in her mouth. It was removed, she was given antibiotics and released at Poipu Beach by the end of the same day. Read more about this swift and successful response here.
  • JF (Juveniile/Female) R7AA hauled out onto the shoulder of the road near Brenneckes in Poipu. A visitor called the hotline, and later the seal was displaced into the water and away from the road entirely.
  • Several reports of dogs chasing seals off the beach at Maha’ulepu were reported to the hotline. No seal injuries have been reported. DOCARE has been alerted.
  • A report was made from a fisherman of a seal dead in a net 3.5 miles outside Nawiliwili Harbor. USCG provided vessel support to investigate and possibly retrieve. A large bill fish, not a seal, was found entangled in a large cargo net, partially eaten by sharks.

Updates on previously reports:

  • NG00 is likely still hooked and was not sighted this month. SM (Small/Male) Sighted on Niihau in January. Photos match pictures sent in last September by fisherman of a hooked seal along Kaumakani on Kauai. Seal presents in good condition. Since hook is not life threatening, the Kauai response team will attempt to de-hook him the next opportunity that presents itself.
  • Poipu Keiki Pool: no displacements took place this month.
  • Bleach markings: 3 seals bleach marked this month.
  • Molting activity: no seals molted this month.

Research/Support of Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center:

  • Subsampled serum samples from R376 for PIFSC and shipped to Oahu.
  • Sub-sampled scat, molt, and tissue plug samples.
  • Logged all seal sightings. Organized photos and reported sightings, molt tallies, survival factors and sent to PIFSC.

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Here’s a recently developed fact sheet on toxoplasmosis, a significant disease threat to the survival of Hawaii’s endangered Hawaiian monk seal. More information can be found here. Additionally, a public forum is being held this Saturday, March 31st on Oahu to address the concerns and impacts of toxoplasmosis to Hawaii’s wildlife and public health. Dr. Michelle Barbieri, the Wildlife Veterinarian Medical Officer with the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program, and Angela Amlin, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Coordinator, are both on the panel. Scroll down for more information.

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R376 in robust body condition on December 21, 2017.

At 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, March 6, a report was called in to the hotline of an adult female, R376, hauled out at Poipu with something hanging out of her mouth. Our monk seal response team suspected she may have had a fish hook stuck in her mouth and the dangling bits were bait. Upon arriving at the beach 30 minutes later, the organic material was still visible, but what was also evident to the team was that she’d lost quite a bit of weight since her last sighting one month before. The combination of the two issues prompted our local team to reach out to the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program–all disturbances/handling of endangered Hawaiian monk seals require clearance–and it was decided a physical examination was warranted.

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R376 in thin body condition on March 6, 2018.

With the help of a trained volunteer team, R376 was easily herded into a transport cage and transported to secure location to await the NOAA veterinary team that was en-route from Honolulu to assist with the examination.

At 3:30 the seal was sedated and examined with radiographs taken from the head to stomach; however, no hooks were present. A visual inspection of the seal’s mouth revealed a large spinous fish bone lodged between the hard palette, left inner cheek, and tongue. The organic material dangling from her mouth was a large octopus arm that was caught on the fish bone. A pair of needle nose pliers were used to carefully remove the bone. An antibiotic injection was given, blood samples were taken for post morbillivirus vaccination titers, the seal was flipper tagged 7AU (left flipper) and 7AV (right flipper), and the sedation was reversed.

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Small wound and infection from embedded fish bone.

 

fish bone

Fish bone (top) and octopus tentacles (bottom).

R376/7AU was transported back to Poipu and released by the Kauai team by 6:30 p.m. The seal entered the water and departed the area.

 

R376

If you come upon this monk seal (flipper tags 7AU/7AV), please give her wide berth while she recovers and regains her lost weight. But please take photos and report her whereabouts to our hotline: 808-651-7668.

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Sightings:

The Kauai team logged 259 seal sightings this month. This included 32 individually identified seals.

Feb: 259
Jan: 336
Dec: 270
Nov: 239
Oct: 225
Sep: 354

New Issues:

  • RK90 returned after 6 week absence. Was large and pregnant on 12/28/17 and then sighted on 2/17/18 thin. Likely pupped on Niihau. This would be her first pupping.

Updates on previously reported issues:

  • NG00 is likely still hooked and was not sighted this month. NG00 was observed with a circle hook in lower right lip. Sighted on Niihau in January. Photos match pictures sent in by fisherman along Kaumakani in September of a hooked seal. Seal in good condition, hook not life threatening, will attempt to de-hook next time hauled out on sand.
  • Poipu Keiki Pool: 6 displacements took place this month. Listed below are which seals and how many total times they have been displaced from the keiki pool. Please remember displacements require skilled training and, as always, prior approval from NOAA. Please never attempt this on your own. But please do call the hotline (808-651-7668) when/if you find a monk seal in the Poipu Keiki Pool.
    • RN02 – 3rd displacement
    • RG58 – 1st and 2nd displacement both this month
    • R339 – 4th displacement
    • RV18 – 1st displacement
    • RK90 – 3rd displacement
  • Morbillivirus vaccinations: All vaccines on Kauai have expired. No further vaccinations will occur for the time being.
  • Bleach markings: 2 seals bleach marked this month.
  • Molting activity: 1 seal molted this month.

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Sightings:

The Kauai team logged 336 seal sightings this month. This included 34 individually identified seals.

Jan:336
Dec: 270
Nov: 239
Oct: 225
Sep: 354

New Issues:

  • R376, adult female, hooked with small j-hook in lip. Hook came out without intervention several days later.
  • One new juvenile male, untagged and unknown, sighted on West Side.

Updates on previously reported issues:

  • R7AA, juvenile female, was observed with a moderate injury to right cheek, possibly a hook pull-out or moray eel bite. Antibiotics were given. Close monitoring continued, wound currently healing.
  • NG00, sub-adult male, was observed with a circle hook in lower right lip. Sighted on Niihau in January. Photos match pictures sent in by fisherman along Kaumakani in September of a hooked seal. Seal in good condition. Hook not life threatening. Will attempt to de-hook next time hauled out on sand.
  • Poipu Keiki Pool: 3 seals displaced from Keiki Pool.
  • Morbillivirus vaccinations: All vaccines on Kauai have expired. No further vaccinations will occur for the time being.
  • Bleach markings: 1 seal bleach marked this month.
  • Molting activity: no seals molted this month.

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face_seal_J36_male_12DEC17_DLOn July 19, 2017, our second pup of the year was tagged RJ36 (born to RK30) at his natal birth site along a stretch of Napali Coast. But he wasn’t officially re-sighted again until late in the afternoon last week Tuesday when a field biologist at Pacific Missile Range Facility reported two seals had hauled out along Kauai’s southwestern shore. One was R8HY and the other turned out to be RJ36. The field biologist observed some unusual scars just forward of the weaner’s left fore flipper and across his dorsal above his rear flippers.

tail_seal_J36_male_12DEC17_DLAfter reviewing photos of RJ36 with the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program (HMSRP), the consensus is RJ36 had an encounter with a shark. The good news is RJ36 appears to be in good health. His wounds have healed, and he’s looking nice and plump.

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In the Main Hawaiian Islands, HMSRP does not rank sharks as a major threat to monk seal survival. According to HMSRP, there have been no documented cases of mortality from sharks in the Main Hawaiian Islands. However, that doesn’t mean they haven’t happened, as those events probably go completely undetected.

RJ36 isn’t Kauai’s only known seal with suspected shark encounters.

There’s also RJ36’s mom, RK30, who was first sighted as an adult by the HMSRP in 2005, already with what’s possibly a scar from a shark bite. She also has a dozen or more cookie cutter shark scars dotting her body.

More recently, another mature female RK13 was sighted in 2011 with two apparent shark wounds–one above her left fore flipper and the other on her right ventral side. We reported on it here. She was regularly sighted along Kapaa’s canals as she recovered from her injuries. She was also pregnant at the time but eventually gave birth to a healthy pup, RL10. Then, in May of this year, we reported here that RK13 was sighted with an unsightly wound to her nares (nostrils), possibly due to a shark bite. Monk seals have an amazing ability to heal themselves through a process called “tissue granulation,” and RK13’s wound healed nicely.

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There are two other known seals with shark wounds. RH92 was a newly weaned pup in 2016 when she turned up with a fresh and deep cookie cutter shark wound on her head.

RICOH IMAGING

R1KY has a large shark bite scar below her right fore flipper, most visible on her dorsal side. R1KY

It’s impossible to know for sure that all these scars are due to sharks and specifically what kind of shark; however, three shark species are common suspects:

  1. Tiger: Considered an apex predator, Tiger sharks grow to lengths of 18 feet and longer, wearing up to 2,000 pounds. This shark inhabits coastal and pelagic waters. Tiger sharks mature slowly and pup in litters of 35 to 55 individuals. Their name comes from the dark, vertical stripes that, interestingly, lighten in color as they age. They can live 30 to 40 years. They eat a wide variety of marine animals and carrion and have been called, “the garbage can of the sea.”
  2. Cookiecutter: The cookiecutter shark, also called the cigar shark, lives in warm, oceanic waters worldwide and particularly near islands. Its common name comes from the cookie cutter-like wounds it leaves in its prey. It lives at depths of 3,200 feet during the day but migrates up the water column at night to feed. To feed, the fish uses its suction cup-like lips to attach itself onto prey. Then, it spins its body, using the row of serrated teeth on its lower jaw to remove a plug of flesh, leaving behind crater-like wounds that are two inches across and approximately two-and-a-half inches deep.
  3. Galapagos: This shark grows to 10 feet in length and generally eats bottom fishes and cephalopods. In the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, where approximately 85 percent of the Hawaiian monk seal species lives, Galapagos sharks have been recorded predating on monk seal pups in nearshore waters around French Frigate Shoals. It’s hypothesized that a small group of sharks are involved in this behavior. You can read more about this unusual mortality event and mitigation efforts here.

Not all appearances of sharks spell trouble for monk seals, as this video from National Geographic’s CritterCam shows. At 1:50, you’ll see sharks in the foreground but no interaction between the species. And at 4:42, you’ll see the Crittercam-toting monk seal chase off a couple reef sharks.

 

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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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