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Posts Tagged ‘marine mammals’

To the casual beachgoer in Hawaii, one Hawaiian monk seal can look just like the next. What appears to be a male monk seal could be a female, and a “mother and baby” pair may actually be juvenile and a newly-weaned pup tumbling in the shore break. Such mistakes are common in the calls to our hotline.

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 4.47.31 PMBut when someone calls our hotline to report a seal on Kaua‘i that “has something around its neck,” the seal almost always turns out to be a familiar female known as RK30. If there’s one seal that represents the challenges a monk seal faces in her lifetime, it’s RK30. She is the “poster seal” of monk seal threats.

RK30 first made her presence known in a dramatic way, and she hasn’t stopped, hauling out on virtually every beach around Kaua‘i in the more than 18 years since we first spotted her, even pushing through throngs of people in the water and onshore to find a place to rest at busy sites along the South Shore and East Side.

It all started in 2005 when she was first identified by the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, and it was that “thing around her neck” that got everyone’s attention. It was suspected to be entanglement with a piece of thick line. This was in the early days of these kinds of responses in the Main Hawaiian Islands, and a team gathered and boated to a remote beach along Nā Pali Coast. But RK30 wanted nothing to do with their help. She was already a strong, powerful adult, and she quickly evaded our team.

Luckily, our vet at the time, Dr. Bob Braun, was able to get a good look at RK30 and positively confirm that she had been entangled, but—here’s the good news—that she’d already freed herself of the entanglement. It took a while for her to shake loose of the rope, as evidenced by the remaining, dramatic scar. It suggests the line had been around RK30’s neck for some time—long enough to leave a permanent indentation around her neck that, upon first glance, still looks like she’s entangled today. Luckily, RK30 slipped her noose before a deadly infection could set in and kill her.

Looking back, this was our first sign that RK30 is the extreme survivor she’s turned out to be, because the entanglement scar isn’t her only indication of a brush with death. In addition, she has boat propeller scars on her belly and a large scar on her left side from a possible encounter with a large shark. On top of all that, she has a constellation of 13 cookie-cutter shark bite scars on her body.

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 4.47.19 PMRK30’s skill at evading death has helped her species in significant ways—primarily, by adding to the species. To our knowledge, RK30 has birthed at least nine pups. Unfortunately, not all her offspring have survived the way she has. One was lost as a very young pup when a late-season swell washed it out to sea. Another died as a juvenile after ingesting a fishing hook. Her oldest known living offspring is RW06, a female, regularly seen along Kaua‘i’s South Shore and nearing reproductive age.

RK30 was pregnant with another pup (RH38) in 2016 when she was harassed by a man while she was resting out at the ocean’s edge. The man—with a long list of other run-ins with the law—was eventually sentenced to four years in prison by Hawai‘i’s Environmental Court. This was the first conviction under the state’s felony endangered species harassment statue, legislation that was initiated by a few stalwart monk seal supporters and introduced by then-Senator, Gary Hooser in 2010 after a spate of intentional killings of monk seals. A few days after RK30’s encounter with the intoxicated man, she gave birth to a healthy RH38 at one of her regular pupping sites along Nā Pali Coast. And she gave birth to another pup in 2017.

During the more than 13 years we’ve tracked RK30 around Kaua‘i, she’s exhibited some unique behaviors. As tolerant as she generally appears to be around humans, she is no pushover. She’ll bark and lunge at those humans who agitate her. She’s also been witnessed logging just offshore in shallow, calm waters. Too, we’ve received frequent reports of her associating with Green sea turtles—pushing them around, flipping the in the air, gnawing at them. But no reports of her killing or eating one.

We have no doubt that monk seals will continue to surprise us in the future. We just hope it’s not RK30. She’s made enough headlines, although we’d be happy to see her pass on her genes to a half-dozen more or so pups in the remainder of her years.

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What’s better than one pup? It’s two! The day after RK22 gave birth, another reliable mother, RK30 also pupped. This one, we know, is a male. Here are a few pictures of the one-week-old pup, known as PK2.

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RH92 (formerly known as PK2) has been busy. She now has a bleach mark of V92 that will make identifying her from a distance much easier. She’s also beginning to travel up and down the coast, going several miles one direction and equally far in the other direction. This makes her much harder for our volunteers to find! She’s been observed flipping rocks and checking things out just like a wild seal should. She’s also been observed with sea cucumber slime on her face. Not something that likely will continue as she discovers more deletable tidbits from the sea!

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Photo credit: G. Langley

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Photo credit: G. Langley

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Photo credit: G. Langley

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Photo credit: G. Langley

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Photo credit: G. Langley

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On day two of PK2’s life, the busy young seal was observed galumphing around its mother and nursing seven times throughout the day. Two males cruised by the pupping site but did not disturb mother (RK22) and pup.

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Photo credit: G. Langley.

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Photo credit: G. Langley.

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On Monday, May 23, 2016, the monk seal known as RK22 arrived at the beach and hauled her heavy body out of the surf. Less than two hours later, she gave birth to a healthy pup, known for now as PK2.

Here’s an article in The Garden Island about the pup’s birth, witnessed by our volunteer Gary Langley.

Keep checking back here as we post regular updates on this pup’s first few weeks of life.

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The moment of birth. Photo credit: G. Langley.

 

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Day one. Photo credit G. Langley.

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Photo credit: Rogers

One. On tax day, April 15, 2015, we welcomed our first Kauai pup of the year when RK13 gave birth to a big, healthy female. Volunteer Gary Langley reported the pup nursed several times during her first morning of life, and while still a few hours old, she took her first swim. All during PK1’s first week of life, the pair was visited by several males RK05, RV18 and a new-to-us monk seal, Temp 310, who chased all others the away. RK13 is an older, productive female that has only pupped once on Kauai. She usually pups on Ni’ihau.

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Photo credit: Rogers

Two. On May 15, 2015, we welcomed PK2 to Kauai, born to RK22, making this her fifth pup in five years. She’s sure turned into a good mother after a rough start in which she abandoned two pups two years in a row. But she can be a little wary, and as with all mothers in the animal kingdom, can be quite protective of her offspring. A few wildlife viewing measures are always important to keep in mind when near RK22 (and any other monk seals): Give them plenty of space; stay out of their line of sight; position yourself downwind; and camouflage yourself by staying low to the ground in and amongst bushes when possible. The goal is to watch without disturbing.

hawaiian monk seal mom and pup

Photo credit: Rogers

Three. On May 26, 2015, we welcomed PK3 to Kauai, born to RO28 who arrived from Oahu only days before. This young mother was born on Kauai but likes to spend her adult days on Oahu–until it’s time to pup. Then, she returns to her natal beach. Like RK22, this mother is very protective and has been aggressive towards people approaching her on the beach or in the water, so we request people give her a wide berth. Amazingly, volunteer Julie Honnert was on the beach with her video camera running when the big event happened. Check out this amazing video!

So, three, so far. And we expect more. Stay tuned. And, as always, if you’d like to volunteer with the Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui on Kauai, please email kauaiseals@gmail.com. And if you run across any seals on the beach, please take a quick health assessment and report any sightings to the hotline–808-651-7668.

 

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