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Posts Tagged ‘monk seal’

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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Last week, on a sunny day, our second pup of the year graduated to “weaner” status and was tagged RJ36. After about six weeks of dedicated nursing, RJ36’s mother, RK30, weaned him and headed back to the nourishing depths of the ocean to replenish the approximate one-third body weight she lost during the nearly six weeks she nursed RJ36 to a healthy weaner weight in the neighborhood of 175 pounds.

While the procedure to tag monk seal weaners only takes about five minutes, the effort to tag this pup took much longer–all due to the remote location of where RK30 chose to birth.

For years now, the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Hui has been aided when accessing remote beaches by marine biologist Captain Tara Leota, sole owner-operator of Kauai Sea Rider Adventures. Captain Tara leads small groups of ecologically-minded guests on snorkeling adventures around Kauai. Captain Tara, her crew, and her guests welcomed our tagging team aboard her 25-foot rigid inflatable boat for the adventurous journey to find RJ36.

Currently, the way we track matriarchal lineage of monk seals is by visual observations of mothers and pups. As such, our goal is always to tag pups within days of their weaning. Once weaners start exploring other parts of the island and mixing with other monk seals, we cannot be sure of their lineage. Thus, Captain Tara has likely helped us know with surety the matriarchal lines of six or eight monk seals over the years. That’s a great effort.

Mahalo Kauai Sea Rider Adventures!

RJ36 (5) 7.19.17-2

Photo credit: V. Bloy

RJ36 (3) 7.9.17-2

Photo credit: V. Bloy

RJ36 tags 7.19.17-2

Photo credit: V. Bloy

Kauai Sea Riders Crew-2

Photo credit: V. Bloy

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PK1 is a boy! (That makes two for this year.) And he’s discovered his flippers, biting at them, flapping them, generally figuring out what they can do.

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PC: K. Rogers

RK22 continues to be a very protective mother, however she is now more comfortable being physically separated from her pup at times. On PK1’s 17th day of life, mom was observed logging in the water 50 feet away from PK1, while he was sound asleep on the beach. She was still keeping a close eye on him though. Also, several snorkelers reported being charged by RK22 while they were entering the water to swim. We do not advise swimming at any beach with a mom and pup pair present.

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PC: J. Thomton

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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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RK22 and PK1 (Day 1). Photo credit: Honnert

It’s a pup!

Kauai’s first pup of the year was born one week ago today to RK22, who surprised us by pupping earlier than we anticipated. What’s more, she pupped on the same day as last year. Her pup goes by “PK1” until it will be banded after mom weans it in a few weeks.

PK1 has spent the last week learning how to nurse and swim–but sticking close to mom. Those two activities along with sleeping make up the little pup’s days.

PK1 Four Days Old

RK22 and PK1 (Day 4).

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