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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Endangered Hawaiian monk seal rescued on Kaua‘i stabilizes at Ke Kai Ola, a dedicated hospital for monk seals on Hawai‘i Island

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PC: G. Langley

(Kailua-Kona, Hawai‘i – Aug. 6, 2018) – A Hawaiian monk seal pup recently rescued on Kaua‘i is now in stable condition at Ke Kai Ola, The Marine Mammal Center’s hospital and visitor center in Kailua-Kona that is dedicated to the endangered marine mammal. The male pup, RK58, was born on July 16 to monk seal RH58 (Rocky) and involved in a switch with another mom-pup pair on the same beach. Multiple attempts at reunification were ultimately unsuccessful, leading to the decision to rescue the pup before weather conditions prevented intervention.

“While surprising to see a second mom-pup switch on the Main Hawaiian Islands, The Marine Mammal Center is prepared to provide rehabilitative care to any Hawaiian monk seal in need,” says Dr. Claire Simeone, the Center’s Hospital Director at Ke Kai Ola. “Each individual animal’s survival is critical to support the recovery of the population, and we are grateful to give RK58 a second chance at life.”

Pup switches are a natural occurrence that are observed annually in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, but are less common in the Main Hawaiian Islands due to the lower density of moms and pups. Last month, experts from The Marine Mammal Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) made the decision to rescue Sole, a young male pup born on Moloka‘i that was also involved in a mom-pup pair switch. This is only the second observed occurrence of this type of switch in the Main Hawaiian Islands.

“This is an unfortunate but natural occurrence that we do see in the wild,” says Jessie Bohlander, Research Marine Biologist and Acting Program Lead for NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center’s (PIFSC) Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program (HMSRP). “We are lucky to have a great partnership between NOAA, the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), The Marine Mammal Center, and others to quickly handle these situations and are hopeful that RK58 will do well at Ke Kai Ola and be successfully released back to the wild.”

On July 16, Rocky gave birth on a remote Kaua‘i beach near two other mom-pup pairs. The animals were observed daily by trained biologists and volunteers with NOAA and DLNR. At about five days of age, volunteers saw RK58 switch nursing mothers with another pup. NOAA and DLNR personnel initiated reunification attempts, and Rocky took her pup back immediately with no aggression or confusion.

Late last week, RK58 switched mothers again. Due to a difference in ages of the pups and a concern that RK58 would not be able to nurse long enough from a different mom, reunification efforts were again attempted. Unfortunately, Rocky rejected her pup and displayed signs of aggression toward him. Rocky then left the area, and her pup was left on its own after having nursed for a total of 19 days, well short of the typical 35 to 50 day nursing duration. It was clear that intervention was critical to ensure the pup’s survival.

 

“As we do with all our monk seal moms and pups, we worked hard to ensure Rocky had a successful nursing period. We did everything we could to keep Rocky and her pup together, but despite our best

efforts, Rocky stopped nursing her pup and we had to intervene to save the pup’s life,” says Jamie Thomton, the Kaua‘i Marine Mammal Response Program Coordinator with NOAA Fisheries Service. “However, we are fortunate that the Hawaiian monk seal hospital Ke Kai Ola is prepared to accept orphaned pups like RK58.”

Dr. Simeone, along with Mr. Thomton from NOAA and Mimi Olry from DLNR, led the rescue effort for the pup this past Saturday ahead of anticipated weather conditions that would make a transport impossible. The United States Coast Guard provided a flight for Dr. Simeone on a C130 from Honolulu to Kaua‘i, and then on to Hawai‘i Island to safely transport the seal to Ke Kai Ola. Dr. Simeone accompanied the seal throughout the transport and is providing supportive care at the hospital with the assistance of staff and volunteers.

During an initial exam, Dr. Simeone noted that the pup is malnourished but otherwise stable. He is currently receiving nutrition in the form of electrolyte tube feedings, and as he grows stronger will transition to eating whole fish. The team plans to quarantine RK58 from Sole until veterinarians can confirm that RK58 is free from infectious disease. Sole continues to progress well in rehabilitation as he makes the transition from tube feeding to free feeding on whole fish. Human interaction will be minimal to ensure that both seal pups stay wild. Once each seal reaches a healthy body condition and is able to forage on its own, it will be released back to the wild.

It is rare to rescue a monk seal from the main Hawaiian Islands, and this young pup is only the third pup from the main islands to be rehabilitated by the Center. The Marine Mammal Center is a member of the Pacific Island Region Marine Mammal Response Network and is responsible for monitoring the seals that haul out on Hawai‘i Island.

The Marine Mammal Center has rehabilitated 23 monk seals since opening Ke Kai Ola in 2014, the majority of which were rescued from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The Center is proud to partner with NOAA to support conservation efforts for the Hawaiian monk seal. Researchers estimate the current monk seal population to be about 1,400 animals, and about 30 percent of those monk seals are alive today directly due to conservation efforts led by NOAA and its partners.

HOW THE PUBLIC CAN HELP

Members of the public should keep a safe distance from monk seals and report sightings on Hawai‘i Island to the Center’s response team at the 24-hour hotline: 808-987-0765.

Volunteers are needed at the Kona hospital and visitor center in a variety of roles, including animal care, education and response. Interested individuals should visit MarineMammalCenter.org/KKO-volunteerto learn more about the opportunities available.

ABOUT THE MARINE MAMMAL CENTER

The Marine Mammal Center is guided and inspired by a shared vision of a healthy ocean for marine mammals and humans alike. Our mission is to advance global ocean conservation through marine

mammal rescue and rehabilitation, scientific research, and education. Since 1975, the Center has been headquartered in the Marin Headlands, Sausalito, Calif., within the Golden Gate National Parks and has rescued and treated over 20,000 marine mammals. In 2014, the Center opened Ke Kai Ola, a hospital and visitor center dedicated to the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, in Kailua-Kona, Hawai‘i. Ke Kai Ola recently launched a new middle-school marine science program and participates in a number of education and community outreach programs on its own and with community partners.

For more information, please visit MarineMammalCenter.org. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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IMG_0321The eighteen-year-old Hawaiian monk seal known to science as RH58 but more commonly known to thousands of her fans as “Rocky” has returned to Kaua`i and given birth to her 11th pup on a remote stretch of coastline where she has pupped nine previous times.

That news has allowed many, many, many people in the Hawaiian monk seal world to breathe a sign of relief, because they won’t have to worry quite as much about the health and safety of mom and pup and beachgoers as they did last year when Rocky surprised everyone by pupping on busy Waikiki Beach. (Reminder: Protective moms have been known to charge snorkelers and swimmers in the water, so steer clear.)

RH58 nurses pupRocky herself was born on another beach on Kaua`​i back in 2000. At some point in her adulthood, she crossed the 70-mile-wide Ka`ie`iewaho Channel and spends much of her adult life navigating the waters and coastline of O`ahu.

She gave birth on the shores of Kaua`i for the first time in 2006 when she was six years of age.

She continued to live on O`​ahu and pup on Kaua`i with little to no trouble (or drama!) until four years ago.

RH58 nuzzles pupIn 2014, Rocky and her pup were involved in a dog(s) attack. Her pup (RF58) received over 60 bite marks on her body, developing a couple abscesses around her neck. A NOAA veterinary team responded with antibiotics. (This was the same attack in which RK28‘s young pup was killed.) Remember, it’s a state law that all dogs on beaches must be leashed.

Then, in 2017, Rocky pupped on Waikiki Beach, igniting her headline-making days and introducing Hawaiian monk seals to tens of thousands of visitors from across the globe. Their first few weeks together were live-streamed by a local media outlet, and the pupping event sparked numerous Facebook fan pages.

In January 2018, Rocky became a grandmother for the first time when her female pup–RB00–gave birth to a pup (R00K) on Lāna`i. Then, she almost became a grandmother a second time when RK52 pupped earlier this year. Unfortunately, that pup was stillborn. RK52 was born in 2011 and officials have hopes she will give birth to many healthy pups in the future.

Hawaiian monk seals can live to be 25 to 30 years old in the wild, so there’s a good chance Rocky will continue to contribute to the recovery of her species in the years to come. Perhaps Rocky’s next great headline will come in six or seven years when she, RB00, and R00K all three pup in the same year. Now, that would be big news.

Keep returning to this page. Photos and video will be added throughout the next few days.

Meanwhile, if you’d like a historical review of Rocky’s whereabouts when she’s on O`ahu, try searching for “RH58” on the Monk Seal Mania website.

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A few weeks ago, we reported the gender of PK1 as male. Well, she fooled both volunteers and veteran monk seal biologists, because more recent photographs reveal that PK is not male. She’s female. That’s good news. It takes more females (than males; sorry guys) to grow the Hawaiian monk seal population. Here’s the photographic evidence.

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See the five dots in the shape reminiscent of the number five on a pair of dice? That’s the tell-tale sign.

In other pup news, we now have a “weaner.” After 37* days of care for her newborn, this pup’s mom, RK13, weaned her not-so-little one. This is normal monk seal biology. During the time from birth to weaning, monk seal moms do not forage. They stick by their pup’s side, nursing them and taking near-shore swims with them. Moms eventually lose half their body weight or more, and hunger drives them back to the sea for nourishment. This is how weaning occurs. Kauai’s first weaner of 2018 will now spend the next few months figuring out what’s good to eat in the sea. Weaners tend to stick around their natal birth site while doing this. Now is also a vulnerable time for new weaners, as they explore their surroundings, both near-shore and on the beach, making it as important as ever to give them wide space to do so safely–away from interactions with humans and dogs.

In the next few weeks, PK will be outfitted with flipper tags. Stay tuned. We’ll announce pup’s official tag numbers once she’s tagged.

Here are a few more photos of PK1’s last days with RK13. (Photo credit J. Thomton.) Note the molting on a couple closeups of the muzzle and tail flippers. You can also see in a few of these the size differential between mom and pup, indicating how much weight mom has lost and how much pup has gained.

 

*UPDATE: The official number of nursing days was changed from 41 to 37. It seems RK13 gradually weaned her pup. She first left her pup for a few hours on Friday and, again, on Saturday and Sunday. As of Sunday evening at sunset, the two had hauled out on the beach about 40 yards from each other. By the next morning, Monday, RK13 was gone. PK1’s first entire day alone was Memorial Day, May 28, 2018.

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Sightings:

The Kauai team logged 303 seal sightings this month. This included 30 individually identified seals.

April: 303
March: 299
Feb: 259
Jan: 336

New:

  • RK13 gave birth to PK1 on 4/20/2018. Extensive monitoring was immediately set-up and continues. Unfortunately, the location is notorious for off-leash dogs and past conflict between beach users and the monk seal program. Thus far, only minor issues have risen. Pup continues to thrive.
  • RK52 gave birth to stillborn female pup. This was RK52’s first birth. Carcass was sent to Oahu for necropsy.

Updates:

  • NG00 was re-sighted once this month and is likely still hooked. (See previous monthly updates for background.)
  • Poipu Keiki Pool: 2 displacements took place this month.
  • Bleach markings: 2 seals bleach marked this month.
  • Molting activity: one seal continues to molt this month.

Research/Support of Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center:

  • Sub-sampled scat, molt, and tissue plug samples.
  • Logged all seal sightings. Thomton organized photos and reported sightings, molt tallies, survival factors to send to PIFSC.

 

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PK1 is 3.5 weeks old today, and he’s healthy-looking, active, and spending more and more time swimming. His routine of late finds him exploring the nearshore waters in the mornings and sleeping on the sand in the afternoons. Such is the life of a young Hawaiian monk seal pup.

Here’s a sweet sequence of images of PK1 and his mom RK13. You can also see how mom is losing weight, the natural course of a nursing monk seal mom’s biology. Her rib and shoulder bones are starting to become visible. She basically fasts the entire time she nurses her pup–all the while he packs on the pounds. Eventually, hunger will drive her to the sea to forage, at which point, he’ll be weaned.

Now, enjoy the slide show. (Photo credit goes to Jamie Thomton.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

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RK13andPK1aOur “old girl” RK13 with the blind left eye up and surprised everyone on Friday when she decided to pup at a location she’s never pupped at before! (Just when we think we know the ways and habits of these seals, they up and do something new and different–even “old” ones!) In weeks prior, RK13 was looking very pregnant, so her new pup was expected, just not her chosen location. However, she chose a good spot, considering the  rainstorms and flooding of late. For mom’s and pup’s safety, the exact beach location is not being publicized at this time. The (P)update is that young one is healthy, and mom took to nursing and protecting it right away! She has plenty experience, after all.

The biggest concern for this mother/pup pair are loose dogs, which have attacked attacked seals and pups in this location before. That said, volunteers are needed to gently and respectfully reach out to folks who may have their dogs off-leash. During the first few weeks the pup is small and slow moving, so dogs are a very real threat to the pup, and Hawaii state law is very clear–all dogs must be leashed at all times on state lands. Later, once the mom and pup start swimming, outreach and focus will shift to humans swimming in the area, as mothers are very protective and often view swimmers as threats to their pups.

RK13andPK1bIf you are a trained volunteer and would like to get back in the pup-sitting fold, please call our hotline at 808-651-7668. And if you have never volunteered before but would like to start now, call the same number. Volunteers are always needed and greatly appreciated.

(If you’d like to know more information about RK13, scroll down to the bottom of this post where it says, “Posted in” and click on “RK13.” That will return every report of RK13 every made on this website. Happy reading!)

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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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