Spotlight on Monk Seals
September - October 2016

Monk seals get their shots, Hawai‘i's youth speak out for seals, and November is the time to try barbless fishing

2016 Monk Seal Vaccination Effort Concludes

In February 2016, NOAA Fisheries began vaccinating wild monk seals against morbillivirus, a widespread disease that has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of cetaceans and pinnipeds around the world. This family of viruses includes measles, which human children are immunized against, and distemper, which is part of a core vaccination series for pet dogs. The disease has not yet been documented in monk seals in Hawai‘i, but could potentially be contracted from unvaccinated dogs or from other marine mammals such as whales and dolphins. Once introduced into the small population of monk seals, an outbreak could set back recovery efforts for decades, or eliminate hope for the species altogether.

Our goal was to achieve "herd immunity" on O‘ahu and Kaua‘i by October, when the current supply of vaccines was due to expire, by vaccinating a large enough percentage of the population to prevent an outbreak. We achieved our herd immunity goal on O‘ahu, with full vaccination of 22 seals, and on Kaua‘i, with 19 seals fully vaccinated. We were also able to vaccinate three seals on Moloka‘i, and all seven seals rehabilitated at Ke Kai Ola were vaccinated prior to their April 2016 release. This is the first ever effort to vaccinate a wild marine mammal species, and NOAA hopes this will lay the foundation for future efforts to vaccinate marine wildlife against preventable diseases.

We just found out there will be a new batch of vaccines available and are starting to plan for 2017. More information will be available in the next newsletter!

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Partner in the Spotlight: Mālama Learning Center

The Mālama Learning Center (MLC) has been working on a project called, "Sounding the Call for Recovery of the Hawaiian Monk Seal through the Voices of Our Youth" since September 2015, under a federal grant funded by NOAA Fisheries. In order to increase local resident awareness of activities that promote monk seal recovery and help build community stewardship of monk seals, MLC put together a series of films featuring youth from O‘ahu and Moloka‘i speaking in their own words about Hawaiian monk seal ecology and conservation. The program "Outside Hawai‘i" on public television station OC16 will air the feature video, Seal 'n' Danger, and a Voices of the Youth PSA beginning in October 2016. All of the completed videos are available at the Seal 'n' Danger website: here. disclaimer external link.

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Hooked Seal Rescued & Released – Try Barbless for November!

Monk seal RE74, more affectionately known as Benny, swallowed a barbed circle hook in early October while foraging off the west side of O‘ahu, which lodged into the lining of his stomach. Thanks to the efforts of volunteers and staff, Benny was captured and brought to our Ford Island facility for surgery. It was a challenging and dangerous surgery given the location of the hook, but Benny came through like a champ, and after two weeks of rehabilitation was released back into the wild On October 24. Sadly, this is the fifth time Benny has been hooked.

Benny wasn't the only critter hooked on O‘ahu in October: a young female seal and a sea turtle were also hooked and required assistance from NOAA teams. All three were hooked by barbed circle hooks. Thanks to quick reporting from volunteers and community members, the skill of our response teams, and a healthy dose of luck, all three survived. The next seal or sea turtle might not be so lucky, so we are encouraging fishermen to try using barbless for the month of November. Barbless hooks catch fish AND ensure easier removal if a turtle or monk seal get hooked. Click to find out more about the Barbless Circle Hook Project. disclaimer external link on Facebook, and share photos of your catch with the hashtag #gobarbless. You can check out KITV's story about Benny here. disclaimer external link.

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Monk Seals in the Media

Ongoing Coverage of Feral Cats & Toxoplasmosis

In the last few Spotlight updates, we've been bringing you news on the number one disease concern for monk seals in the main Hawaiian Islands: toxoplasmosis, also called toxo. Toxo continues to be a hot topic in the news and has appeared everywhere from the Star Advertiser to Honolulu Magazine to the national publication Outside Magazine. The Star Advertiser and Honolulu Magazine articles are available online here disclaimer external link and here disclaimer external link. And check out Outside Magazine's November issue here. disclaimer external link.

Research publication determining the prevalence of monk seal – fisheries interactions in the main Hawaiian Islands

The HMSRP published a paper the prevalence and characteristics of interactions between the Hawaiian monk seals and nearshore fisheries between 1976 and 2014. They documented 139 monk seal–fisheries interactions in that time and a minimum of 11 deaths. The paper also discusses other patterns in interactions between seals and the nearshore fisheries. To read the full abstract click here disclaimer external link.

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About NOAA's Species in the Spotlight

The goal of the Species in the Spotlight initiative is to marshal resources and partnerships focused on saving eight priority threatened and endangered species. Our approach involves intensive human efforts to stabilize these species, with the goal that they will become candidates for recovery.

Did You Know...?

Monk seals can dive over 550 meters and hold their breath for more than 20 minutes. However, most of their foraging occurs in water less than 100 meters deep and dives tend to be about 6 minutes long.

Upcoming Events

Coming on January 15, 2017 is the annual Hawaiian Monk Seal Population Update. The scientists are busy crunching all the population data from 2016 to calculate the current population size and trend. Will we finally be able to say the population decline has stopped?

Ke Kai Ola Patient Update

Three of the four emaciated seals brought from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to the Ke Kai Ola monk seal hospital in Kona (reported on in the Summer 2016 Spotlight) have doubled their weight since August! This is promising progress for our patients, who have a few more months to fatten up before they are taken back up to the NWHI for release. Here are a few photos of the current patients a little more than a month into their rehabilitation.


Emaciated seal brought from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to the Ke Kai Ola monk seal hospital in Kona.
Emaciated seal brought from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to the Ke Kai Ola monk seal hospital in Kona.
Emaciated seal brought from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to the Ke Kai Ola monk seal hospital in Kona.

Need more information?

For more information on the Species in the Spotlight effort, please visit here or contact Angela Amlin, HMS Recovery Coordinator Charles Littnan, HMS Research Program