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Posts Tagged ‘monk seal’

 

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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 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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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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7AA front head viewEarlier this month, someone called the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Hui hotline to report a green seal hauled out on the east side. It was R7AA. The next day, the same seal was reported “very green” and with a “transmitter.” (You may recall R7AA was flipper-tagged in September and outfitted with a dive recorder. That was the “transmitter” on her back.) But this report also included “something hanging from the seal’s mouth.” Kindly, the caller sent photos. Shortly thereafter, the dispatcher with the Kauai Police Department also received a call and report of a hooked seal. More photos were submitted. While no hook was seen in any of the photos, our Kauai team immediately responded.

7AA side head viewWhat they found was, indeed, a very green seal sporting a transmitter. And no hook. But she did have gouges to both her upper and lower lips and a flap of skin hanging from the right side of her mouth and was given a antibiotic injection by way of a pole syringe.

7AA lifting headThat was last weekend. In the week since, R7AA has been sighted on three more occasions. The skin flap is gone. Her wound is healing. And she’s just started to molt around her flippers.

For now, she’s still–appropriately for the holiday–green.

This is a good example of the efforts of many people and agencies coming together to aid one in need, our endangered Hawaiian monk seals.

 

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V76(Thomton)There are numerous ways to positively identify a monk seal, including: 1) Natural bleach marks; 2) Scars; 3) Plastic flipper tags; and 4) Applied bleach marks.

To the untrained eye, one monk seal may look just like another. And, sometimes, even those who have been trained and spent hours, days and weeks observing monk seals confuse one monk seal for another. That’s because not all seals are flipper-tagged and even those that are sometimes lose the plastic identification tags attached to their rear flippers due to breakage. Too, a monk seal’s wounds—say from cookie cutter sharks—heal quite quickly, so a once dependable identifying scar can fade. Even the temporary three-digit “bleach marks,” applied by a trained biologist with the aid of your standard, over-the-counter, hair dye (thanks Clairol!) disappears every year when the seal goes through its annual molt.

The ability to identify individual seals is important for the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program to track seals throughout their lifetime to gain information about their movement patterns, survival, reproduction, health, and more.

On Kaua‘i, we regularly see 40 to 50 individual seals that we consider “resident” to the island. While some tend to favor Kaua‘i, we do know many move from island to island throughout the archipelago. Most recently, thanks to these unique ways to identify individual seals, two of those once seen around Kaua‘i have been spotted elsewhere.

R8HE was a juvenile when flipper-tagged here in 2014, but she’s been regularly sighted around O‘ahu and reported as far away as Hawai‘i Island. Earlier this year, she appeared pregnant but then wasn’t seen for a couple months. She popped back up looking very thin, making HMSRP suspect she’d pupped in a remote place somewhere. (This happens even in the Main Hawaiian Islands.)

Too, earlier this year, an adult female started hauling out on the rocks near Brennecke’s Beach in Poipu and was bleach-marked V76. Late last month, she was reported by divers off Hawai‘i Island.

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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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As we’ve reported, earlier this year, one of Kauai’s regular-pupping moms (RH58) gave birth on Oahu, where she has spent most of her adult life. She pupped on busy Waikiki Beach. With the thousands of people who flock to Waikiki, it was a challenging time for, among others, NOAA’S marine mammal response team, lifeguards on the beach, DLNR’s DOCARE officials, and the many volunteers of the Hawaii Marine Animal Response team. They had to worry about the safety of mom and pup as well as the numerous swimmers, sunbathers, surfers, paddlers, and throngs of people who came out to see the newest member of the Hawaiian monk seal species. Plus, the seals themselves threw in a few of their own unique challenges. In the early days after pupping, RH58 chased off another adult seal or two in shallow water and on the beach. On two occasions, the pup, who came to be known as Kaimana after the beach on which she was born, slipped between the deteriorating walls of and inside the Natatorium. (Her real-time retrieval by the Hawaiian Monk Seal Science Program was recorded by Civil Beat.) She and her mom also scattered beachgoers when hauling out–with pup mouthing the left-behind beach gear–imagine a child’s slipper–of those who’d hastily departed to give the seals room.

Through it all, neither seal nor human was hurt. Thankfully.

The closest thing on Kauai to that kind of scene just might be Poipu Beach. Of late, we’ve had multiple seals–sometimes four and five–hauling out at the same time on this busy beach–resting, playing, and socializing. Frequently one seal will harass several others, forcing them back into the water for a play session that moves from the water aerobics class, to the snorkel area, and then into the keiki pool. These socializing sessions have occurred several times in the course of a single day.

It can be a stressful time for all involved–with vocalizing and flippers, sand, and water flying.

Volunteers have been trained to use the opportunity of people entering and exiting the water to educate them on the presence of the seals and the appropriate response to any interactions between human and seal that may occur. However, volunteers have been trained not to try and interact with people while they are in the water, so as not to create a panic.

The guidance for the public if approached by a monk seal in the water is to either stay motionless and let the seals swim by or to slowly swim away. But to never try to touch or follow a seal.

Here’s a very short clip that shows how close the encounters can be and in shallow water, at that.

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