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Posts Tagged ‘pinniped’

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.

 

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 259 seal sightings this month. This included 32 individually identified seals.

Feb: 259
Jan: 336
Dec: 270
Nov: 239
Oct: 225
Sep: 354

New Issues:

  • RK90 returned after 6 week absence. Was large and pregnant on 12/28/17 and then sighted on 2/17/18 thin. Likely pupped on Niihau. This would be her first pupping.

Updates on previously reported issues:

  • NG00 is likely still hooked and was not sighted this month. NG00 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: 6 displacements took place this month. Listed below are which seals and how many total times they have been displaced from the keiki pool. Please remember displacements require skilled training and, as always, prior approval from NOAA. Please never attempt this on your own. But please do call the hotline (808-651-7668) when/if you find a monk seal in the Poipu Keiki Pool.
    • RN02 – 3rd displacement
    • RG58 – 1st and 2nd displacement both this month
    • R339 – 4th displacement
    • RV18 – 1st displacement
    • RK90 – 3rd displacement
  • Morbillivirus vaccinations: All vaccines on Kauai have expired. No further vaccinations will occur for the time being.
  • Bleach markings: 2 seals bleach marked this month.
  • Molting activity: 1 seal molted this month.

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Last fall, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program placed dive recording tags on two monk seals that make their home in Kauai waters. We briefly wrote about it here. During one recording period, the two seals (R1KT and R7AA) both made numerous dives deeper than 150 meters (492 feet). One bottomed out at 170 meters (557 feet) and the other at close to 200 meters (656 feet).

These are mammals diving to 500 feet on a single breath of air. But that’s not unusual for monk seals. In fact, the deepest known dive for a monk seal occurred in 2003 when scientists in a Pisces submersible descended to a depth of 543 meters (1,781 feet). They were studying deep sea corals, submarine canyons, and seamounts when a Hawaiian monk seal swam into their field of view. The on-board microphone captured their reaction. It went like this:

“Whoa.”

“What’s that?”

“That’s a monk seal.”

“Oh my god.”

“No way.”

“Look it. Right in front of us.”

“No way.”

“Oh my god.”

So, how do they do it? How do monk seals dive to depths of 1,781 feet?

There are numerous physiological responses involved; collectively the process that allows monk seals to dive deep is known as “mammalian diving reflex.” It involves the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Typically, before a dive, seals exhale completely. This allows their lungs to completely collapse and avoid gas transfer at depth that could cause nitrogen narcosis. Then, holding their breath, the heartbeat slows from about 125 beats per minute to as low as 10 beats per minute. This is known as bradycardia. A slowing heart rate reduces oxygen consumption. Too, blood is diverted from the limbs and all organs except the heart and brain. This is known as blood shift. It’s accomplished through a process known as peripheral vasoconstriction. Too, diving mammals have high blood volume. That is, elevated hemoglobin and myoglobin levels, which provides greater oxygen storage. The whole idea is to conserve oxygen consumption, so the seal can dive deeper and longer.

Simply, they can hold their breath, slow their heart rate, and direct blood to just the heart and brain. This also helps explain their torpedo-like shape and abbreviated pectoral fins.

Here’s a video of that astonishing 1,781-foot-diving monk seal.

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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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