Spotlight on Monk Seals: Summer 2016

A second chance for seals, a high-flying partnership, connecting art and conservation, and a unique approach to an endangered species Recovery Team

A Second Chance for Seals

Hawaiian Monk Seal Assessment and Recovery Camps concluded in August, and our field teams were transported back to the main Hawaiian Islands after four months of hard but rewarding work on the islands and atolls of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Along with our field crews aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette, were two pups abandoned by their mothers prior to weaning, VH24 and WH10, a female and male dubbed Lele‘aka (Milky Way) and Niho‘ole (Toothless), respectively; a one-year female AG06 called Ha‘aheo (Shy with Pride); and, for the first time, an adult seal, five-year old female YK56 called Mea Ola (Survivor). All four were underweight and were transported to The Marine Mammal Canter's Ke Kai Ola hospital in Kona.

The four seals will spend the next several months in rehabilitation at Ke Kai Ola before being returned to their homes in the Monument in April 2017. Since its opening in 2014, 15 monk seals have been rehabilitated at Ke Kai Ola and subsequently released. All seven of the seals released earlier in 2016 were observed by our field crews throughout the summer.

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Partner in the Spotlight: The United States Coast Guard

In June 2016, the partnership between NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) in Hawai‘i reached a milestone: fifty Hawaiian monk seal responses have been carried out by the USCG since 2008 including transports to bring seals to O‘ahu from neighbor islands for medical treatment, to carry emaciated pups from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) to The Marine Mammal Center's Ke Kai Ola Hospital in Kona for rehabilitation, and to return healthy seals home to beaches from Maui to Midway Atoll.

In the April-May Spotlight we highlighted "The Great Monk Seal Transport" of seven monk seals from Ke Kai Ola to O‘ahu on USCG planes before boarding a ship to return them home to the NWHI. NOAA Fisheries once again extends our gratitude to the USCG for transporting two hooked seals within a span of two weeks from Kaua‘i to O‘ahu for hook removal and treatment of accompanying infections. When dealing with such a small population of an endangered species, every monk seal life saved is important, and the USCG has played a critical role in saving the lives of many seals.

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Artist in Residence Spends a Summer as a Scientist

To succeed in conservation it is essential to help people understand the species plight, but perhaps it is even more critical to get people to care about the problem. There are few things that have been more successful in capturing the public's attention and concern than by using art to connect them with species in peril. To better raise awareness about monk seals and NOAA's efforts to recover them, the HMSRP teamed up with April Surgent, an artist specializing in glass engraving and other media, to help tell our story. However, it was important that April truly understood what it meant to be part of the research and conservation efforts surrounding monk seals. In order to achieve that, she was embedded in our Pearl and Hermes field camp for the entire summer. She didn’t just observe. She was a scientist. She was a conservationist. She was a team member. It was a steep learning curve for her but she excelled and gained a far deeper appreciation for our work than she would have if she had only interviewed or spent a couple of days following our team. She is now back in her studio beginning work on a number of installations. We are hoping to share these works with the world later in 2017.

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Hawaiian monk seal weaned pup off Pearl and Hermes.  Photo by April Surgent, taken under NMFS Permit number 16632.

Lighters collected by the Pearl and Hermes field team. Photo by April Surgent, taken under NMFS Permit number 16632.

Lighters collected by the Pearl and Hermes field team.  Photo by April Surgent, taken under NMFS Permit number 16632.

Hawaiian monk seal weaned pup off Pearl and Hermes. Photo by April Surgent, taken under NMFS Permit number 16632.

Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Team

On June 21 and 22, 2016, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Team (HMSRT) met in Honolulu to discuss the objectives outlined in the Main Hawaii Islands (MHI) Monk Seal Management Plan released earlier this year, including recent accomplishments, new developments, future plans of the HMS Research and Recovery Programs, and how the Recovery Team will support and facilitate recovery actions over the next year.

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The HMSRT is a unique approach to the development and engagement of a Recovery Team, in that (1) the team is comprised of stakeholders and community members, no government or regulatory partners hold seats on the team; (2) the team is focused on facilitating implementation of recovery actions highlighted in the Recovery Plan, MHI Management Plan, and Species in the Spotlight Plan; and (3) the team has formed multiple task-oriented committees to focus on particular aspects of monk seal recovery including a Native Hawaiian Cultural Committee and a Fisheries Committee.

Monk Seals in the Media

Continued Coverage of Groundbreaking Vaccination Efforts

NOAA's pioneering effort to vaccinate the Hawaiian monk seal population against the potentially devastating impacts of a morbillivirus outbreak continues to receive positive media attention. A reporter from Science magazine recently spent time in the field with one of our vaccination crews, and ran the story in their June issue. To read the article (protected access), click here. disclaimer external link For more information on the vaccination program, click here.

Toxoplasmosis and Hawaiian Monk Seals

In our April-May 2016 monthly update, we introduced one of NOAA’s many efforts to combat the impacts of the infectious disease toxoplasmosis: co-coordinating the formation of an Interagency Working Group dedicated to the development, implementation, and support of solutions to this critical threat which has already claimed the lives of at least eight monk seals. This month, Civil Beat published an article covering some of the many social and biological complexities surrounding this issue. The article can be found 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.

Hawaiian Monk Seal

With only 1,300 monk seals left in existence, the life of every seal is critically important to recovery of the species. The Hawaiian Monk Seal Research and Recovery Programs combine science and management to form one of the most proactive marine mammal recovery programs in the world.

Upcoming Events

The IUCN World Conservation Congress will be held in Honolulu from September 1-10, 2016.

Meet the KKO Patients

The seals are settled in at Ke Kai Ola and being treated for any health issues, such as worms or vitamin deficiencies, and getting fed lots of fish to get their weight up to where it should be.

Lele'aka, Photo: J. Steelman, NMFS Permit 18786
Niho'ole, Photo: J. Steelman, NMFS Permit 18786
Ha'aheo, Photo: J. Steelman, NMFS Permit 18786
Mea Ola, Photo: J. Steelman, NMFS Permit 18786

Monk Seal Pupdate

We are reaching the end of pupping season, although births may stretch into September. There are currently at least 159 baby monk seals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. In the main Hawaiian Islands there are 31 pups.

RH38, the first pup born on Kaua‘i in 2016, was officially the first weaned pup of 2016.  She is active, healthy, and foraging on her own. RH38, the first pup born on Kaua‘i in 2016, was officially the first weaned pup of 2016. She is active, healthy, and foraging on her own.

Notes from the HMS A.R.C.

NOAA picked up the monk seal Assessment and Recovery Camp (ARC) teams at the end of a four month stint surveying seals, performing life-saving interventions such as disentanglement from marine debris, and assessing candidates for rehabilitation (see story on Page 1 of this Monthly Update). Here is a quick summary of just some of the lifesaving efforts that took place:

  • 1 Eel removed from the nose of a young pup
  • 3 Disentanglements or rescues of entrapped seals
  • 4 Seals brought in to rehabilitation at KKO
  • 11 Translocations of seals to safer areas
  • 7,000 Pounds of debris and trash removed from beaches

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