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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.

 

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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

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On Friday, an email arrived on Kauai. It read: “RH92 has hauled at Kaupo Beach (Baby Makapuu) today.”

Kaupo Beach is found on Oahu.

What a surprise! Until last week, RH92 was regularly reported day after day hauling out on a narrow one-mile stretch of beach on the East Side of Kauai. Then, she made a longer trek, popping up on the South Shore. Now, she’s made the 70-mile jump over to Oahu.

Here’s a little background on the two-year-old RH92, a female.

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Photo credit: G. Langley

RH92 was born on the North Shore to RK22. A few months after weaning, some fishermen contacted DOCARE (Department of Conservation and Resources Enforcement), because a loose dog had attacked a small monk seal. An officer immediately responded, found the dog’s owner, and issued a citation. The seal, with multiple puncture wounds, turned out to be RH92 and was given antibiotics. Thankfully, her small punctures did not become infected and healed quickly.

Soon thereafter, RH92 ventured to Kauai’s East Side where, as a yearling, she began feeding on fish scraps in a canal. Because two other yearlings had drowned, possibly in nets, in the same canal in previous years, she was translocated her to the West Side of the island. Meanwhile, signs near the canal and boat launch were installed and fishers asked not to dump fish scraps in the area. Luckily, fishers complied, because RH92 quickly made her way back to the East Side within two weeks later. Since then, there’s been no problems.

RICOH IMAGING

Photo credit: M. Miyashiro

Too, RH92 has an impressive scar on her head from a large cookie cutter shark bite that happened last year. At the time, it was quite startling as her skull was visible. But she quickly healed.

It’s not unusual for Hawaiian monk seals to island hop. But RH92’s decision to cross an open ocean channel for Oahu was a surprise, suggesting she possibly followed an older seal. That’s not unusual for monk seals to do, too.

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Two more pups have joined the Hawaiian monk seal population.

On June 26, RK28 gave birth to a healthy pup, her first pup born on Kauai in four years. Here is PK3 on the day of his/her birth.

rk28 and pup day oneAs you may recall, in 2014, RK28’s two-week old pup was tragically killed during a night-time dog(s) attack that also left dozens of puncture wounds on four other seals, including RK28 who likely valiantly tried her best to protect her pup. It was a tragedy, especially since it’s one that could have been prevented simply by not letting dogs run free. Please share this story when chatting with folks on the beach about the various threats these endangered monk seals face. To read more about this tragedy, click here.

Two years ago, in 2016, RK28 was observed with large mobbing wounds and abscesses on her back, the scars of which are still visible on her back. These wounds are caused by male monk seals and have been observed in other females. The Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program reports this kind of male behavior can involve multiple males competing to mate with an adult female or a single male targeting a younger seal. To read more about adult male aggression, click here.

But back to some good news. Just two days ago, on June 30, RO28 provided the species with another member. This is RO28’s sixth pup in as many years on Kauai. Here is PK4 on the day of his/her birth. RO28 and pup day one

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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.

 

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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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