Hawaiian Monk Seal Updates
Get the latest monk seal updates from NOAA Fisheries in the Pacific Islands.
RW22 (Kolohe) Succumbs to Toxoplasmosis
November 22, 2021
RW22 (Kolohe) arrived at The Marine Mammal Center’s Hawaiian monk seal hospital, Ke Kai Ola, in Kailua-Kona, Hawaiʻi, on October 6, 2021. The Center’s dedicated veterinary and animal care team immediately began working overtime to care for him as he battled the disease toxoplasmosis. Here at NOAA Fisheries, we have been consulting with and supporting our partners in Kona from afar. It is with heavy hearts that we share the unfortunate news that RW22 passed away on November 17, 2021. At least 15 endangered Hawaiian monk seals have died as a result of toxoplasmosis since 2001.
Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a protozoal parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, that enters the environment through cat feces. Infection can cause dysfunction in many vital organs, including the brain and nervous system, heart, lungs, muscles, and internal fat tissue. The treatment regimen is intense, with lots of medications aimed at killing the parasite, reducing pain and inflammation associated with infection, and supporting recovery. These treatments require many weeks of consistent care, and the outcome is far from certain. RW22 was only the second monk seal to survive with a toxoplasmosis infection long enough to receive treatment.
Toxoplasma can be shed by both owned and feral cats. If you are a cat owner, the most important thing you can do to help prevent T. gondii from getting into the environment and impacting endangered Hawaiian monk seals like RW22 is to keep cats safely indoors. Every cat that stays inside can be part of the solution, and keeping them indoors is better for the health of both wildlife and cats.
In addition to suffering from toxoplasmosis, RW22 also ingested a significant amount of fishing gear. He regurgitated the fishing gear, or at least most of it, while in the hospital—a very unusual occurrence that allowed him to avoid needing surgery. Examination of the ingested gear suggested that he had swallowed not just one fishing line, but likely multiple hooks and what appears to be part of a lay net. This could be an indication that he had more than one recent fishery interaction. While the fishing gear was not the ultimate cause of RW22’s death, interactions with fishing gear remain another top threat to monk seals. We encourage the public to follow our guidelines for Fishing Around Seals and Turtles.
Although NOAA Fisheries and The Marine Mammal Center learned a great deal about caring for seals with toxoplasmosis from RW22 and Pōhaku (RO28)—the first seal to undergo a full course of treatment for the disease—there are still many unknowns. But treating sick seals is not the most effective way to address this threat. We applaud our partners at the Center for their incredible efforts and are very grateful for the work that they do and their dedication to RW22 and the species. Partnerships with organizations like The Marine Mammal Center, as well as efforts from the general public, will be essential to tackling a threat like toxoplasmosis and protecting the health of monk seals and other native species in Hawaiʻi affected by this deadly disease.
RW22 Under Veterinary Care for Toxoplasmosis, Ingested Fishing Gear, and Other Ailments
October 18, 2021
NOAA Fisheries recently coordinated the transport of a male Hawaiian monk seal from Oʻahu to Hawaiʻi Island for rehabilitation at The Marine Mammal Center’s Hawaiian monk seal hospital and visitor center, Ke Kai Ola. NOAA veterinarians determined that the seal, identified as 13-year-old RW22, required long-term care at the Center for ingested fishing gear, lethargic behavior, and apparent weight loss. However, further examinations at the seal hospital revealed RW22 also has the cat-borne disease toxoplasmosis, malnutrition, and a possible corneal ulcer in his swollen left eye. RW22 is currently in stable condition at the Center and is responding well to treatment.
RW22—nicknamed “Kolohe'' by volunteers and community members—is well known to NOAA Fisheries biologists. He has been hooked three times before, according to NOAA records. NOAA Fisheries staff dehooked him in 2008 and 2012, and RW22 threw a hook on his own in 2020.
The seal’s current journey to recovery began on October 4, 2021. A member of the public reported seeing a monk seal with a fishing line, swivel, and lead sinker dangling from its mouth, but no visible hook. The seal was also “logging,” or inactively floating in the water for long periods of time. NOAA’s close partner Hawaii Marine Animal Response, along with other community members, later spotted the monk seal on October 6 at Ko Olina’s Lagoon 2.
NOAA Fisheries staff responded, captured, and transported the seal to the NOAA Inouye Regional Center for evaluation. There, X-rays revealed that RW22 had ingested the gear previously seen coming from his mouth. Due to the seal’s concerning condition, NOAA Fisheries enlisted the help of the U.S. Coast Guard to immediately transport RW22 to the Center.
Initial blood work at the hospital revealed that RW22 is suffering from toxoplasmosis—a life-threatening disease that has claimed the lives of at least 13 seals since 2004. It is one of the main threats and leading causes of death facing the endangered Hawaiian monk seal population in the main Hawaiian Islands. The disease is caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which can only reproduce in the guts of cats and is shed into the environment via cat feces.
After consulting with NOAA Fisheries, the Center’s team has started RW22 on a robust treatment plan for toxoplasmosis. The seal is under daily sedation and is receiving food through a tube to help increase his weight and energy levels. He is also receiving treatment for his swollen eye.
NOAA Fisheries and The Marine Mammal Center will consider surgery to remove the multiple embedded single-pronged hooks and other gear from RW22’s esophagus and stomach once his condition has stabilized.
This case is an important reminder to report any injured or entangled seal you see to the statewide NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline at 1-888-256-9840. If not for the quick reporting by the public, RW22’s story may have taken a more tragic turn (though he is not yet out of the danger zone).
Best Practices and How You Can Help
NOAA recommends best practices to reduce injuries to monk seals when fishing:
- Take care when casting if a seal is in the area
- Fish with barbless circle hooks
- Clean catch away from seals
- Never approach a hooked seal—they are wild animals
NOAA also needs the public’s help to reduce the spread of toxoplasmosis, which kills other wildlife—including native bird species—in addition to monk seals. Please remember to:
- Dispose of cat litter in the trash, not the toilet
- Keep pet cats indoors
- Spread the word about this deadly and preventable disease
A Monk Seal's Incredible Journey
Six-year-old Hawaiian monk seal travels 1,300 miles from Kure Atoll to the North Shore of Oʻahu in only 5 weeks.
October 7, 2021
Oʻahu has a new visitor—and she traveled more than 1,300 miles by sea to get here! On September 22, we received a report of an unfamiliar monk seal with gray-colored flipper tags on the North Shore of Oʻahu. Monk seals from Oʻahu and the other inhabited (main) Hawaiian Islands normally have red-colored flipper tags, so the odd tag color spiked curiosity. Our scientists examined the photos and confirmed the gray-colored tag numbered G89. This gray tag with number G89 revealed the seal's identity: our mysterious visitor was a 6-year-old female, KG54, from Hōlanikū (Kure Atoll).
Now that is quite a swim! Hōlanikū is the most remote atoll in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and the westernmost site used by the species in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. NOAA Fisheries’ Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program summer field staff last saw KG54 at Hōlanikū on August 14, 2021. Travelling from Hōlanikū to Oʻahu in little more than a month is an impressive journey for a monk seal. That translates into swimming an average of 34.5 miles per day in 5 weeks or less!
From years of monitoring the population, we know that many monk seals move between neighboring islands and atolls. They sometimes move between the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the main Hawaiian Islands regions. In fact, their ability to island-hop allowed monk seals to recolonize the main Hawaiian Islands in recent decades after they were almost completely wiped out in that region centuries ago. But what makes KG54 special is that she traveled such a great distance in such a short time period.
While KG54 is the fastest seal on record to cover such a distance, she is not the first monk seal to embark on such a long voyage. Five-year-old RS00, a female seal from Kuaihelani (Midway Atoll) traveled to the main Hawaiian Islands over a period of several years. RS00 left Kuaihelani in 1997, stopped off at Kamole (Laysan Island) in 1998–1999, arrived in the main Hawaiian Islands, and was seen on Molokaʻi and Kauaʻi in 2000. She remained in that area for the rest of her life. Will KG54 do the same? Only time will tell.
Over the last 5 years, at least 18 seals have journeyed between the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and main Hawaiian Islands regions.They primarily traveled between the southern end of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands chain and the northern portion of the main Hawaiian Islands. They most frequently swam between Nihoa Island and Niʻihau and Lehua Islands, indicating that these are important stepping stones for movement between the regions.
According to our records, this is the first time we have seen KG54 outside of her birthplace, Hōlanikū. We may never know what prompted this 1,300-mile journey or the path that she took.
One might wonder—do monk seals experience wanderlust? This seal just might.
Help us track KG54 and other monk seals by reporting your monk seal sightings to NOAA’s Marine Mammal Hotline (888) 256-9840.
Hawaiian monk seals are one of the NOAA Fisheries “Species in the Spotlight” because of their endangered status and the threats they face. Learn more about the Priority Actions the agency is taking to help Hawaiian monk seals thrive.
Young Female Seal Found Dead on Moloka'i
September 23, 2021
On September 19, 2021, members of the public found a young female seal dead on the south shore of Molokaʻi. Responders identified her by a temporary bleach mark on her side—“L11”—one of the pups born on the island in 2020.
Due to COVID conditions in Hawaiʻi, NOAA Fisheries will not be able to perform a full post-mortem examination at this time. Once we’re able to do that, we expect to better understand what caused her death.
The incident has been referred to NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement and the State of Hawaiʻi Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE). Enforcement is now investigating six seal deaths on Molokaʻi that have occurred since the beginning of 2021. This is an unprecedented number of deaths over a 9-month time period.
Those with information about the deaths of these endangered Hawaiian monk seals should share it via:
- NOAA Law Enforcement hotline: (800) 853-1964
- DOCARE hotline: (808) 643-DLNR
- DLNRTip app
You can share information anonymously for any or all of these options.
Hawaiian monk seals are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act, as well as Hawaiʻi Revised Statute 195D. Only an estimated 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals are alive today. Under the ESA, it is illegal to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt to engage in any such conduct with any endangered species.
Please report all monk seal sightings, injuries, and strandings to the NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline at (888) 256-9840.
Further Analysis Reveals Toxoplasmosis as Cause of Death for RK40
August 9, 2021
Since our initial post regarding the death of RK40 (Hinakokea), NOAA Fisheries conducted multiple postmortem analyses to investigate the cause of her death. Results from necropsy and immunohistochemistry (lab test to look for markers of disease) indicate that she died from a widespread toxoplasmosis infection. Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a protozoal parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, that enters the environment through cat feces.
Including RK40, 14 Hawaiian monk seals are known to have died as a direct result of this disease. However, because more seals disappear than are found dead, it is likely that toxoplasmosis has caused many more seal deaths. Unfortunately, the majority of those deaths (10 of 14) have been females, which means that we have lost not only those seals, but also their future descendants. A recent study found that toxoplasmosis mortalities are limiting monk seal population growth in the main Hawaiian Islands.
The important thing you can do to help prevent T. gondii from getting into the environment and impacting endangered Hawaiian monk seals like Hinakokea, is to keep cats safely indoors—it’s good for wildlife, and for cats.
Call the NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline at (888) 256-9840 to report all seal sightings, including sick or injured monk seals.
Find out more about the threat of toxoplasmosis to Hawaiian monk seals:
- The Toll of Toxoplasmosis: Protozoal Disease Has Now Claimed the Lives of 12 Monk Seals and Left Another Fighting to Survive
- The Pohaku Chronicles, a 5-part podcast series telling the story of an adult female monk seal, RO28 (Pōhaku), and her battle with toxoplasmosis.
March 16, 2021
Three-year-old female Hawaiian monk seal RK40, also known as Hinakokea or Napua, was found dead on March 5, 2021, at a beach near Camp Erdman on the North Shore of Oʻahu. The name Hinakokea was gifted to her by 4th grade students at Hauʻula Elementary School. She was known by community members and volunteers with Hawaii Marine Animal Response to frequent the stretch of coastline between Kaʻena Point and Mokulēʻia. Her cause of death is currently unknown. NOAA Fisheries will conduct a post-mortem examination and will provide updates as they become available.
Anyone with information on the circumstances surrounding the seal's death should call the NOAA Office for Law Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964.
Please report all monk seal sightings, injuries, and strandings to the NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline at (888) 256-9840.
RM90 Found Deceased on Windward Side of O'ahu
July 13, 2021
Since our initial post regarding the death of RM90/Mele, we’ve been pursuing additional analyses to help determine the cause of her death. We were unable to definitively identify the cause because the carcass was heavily decomposed, making subtle findings hard to interpret.
However, we were able to narrow it down to two possibilities. The intestines were severely twisted, but there was no clear indication (microscopically) that such twisting caused her death; rather, it seems more likely that the twisting occurred post-mortem. The other—and more plausible—explanation is drowning, most likely in a net. The front of RM90’s body had several areas of hemorrhage that support this conclusion, and it is where the available evidence points the strongest.
In our initial post, we mentioned that we’d been monitoring RM90 due to an external hook in her cheek. External hooks are typically not immediately life threatening, but our team does attempt to remove them if, and when, we can do that safely. Unfortunately, RM90 was seen infrequently, and those sightings occurred in areas where it was unsafe to capture her. While the hook did not directly cause her death, it is possible that it rendered her more susceptible to entanglement—she had already been entangled and disentangled in the month prior to her death.
A monk seal loss is always difficult. This loss in particular is felt far and wide, as many partners (Ke Kai Ola, Hawaii Marine Animal Response, Marine Corps Base Hawaii) in our community contributed to monitoring and caring for her.
June 7, 2021
NOAA Fisheries regrets to report that one-year-old female Hawaiian monk seal RM90, also known as Mele, was found deceased on May 24, 2021, on the windward side of O‘ahu. Mele, which means “chant or song” in Hawaiian, was gifted her name by third graders at Kamehameha Schools’ Kapālama Campus in Honolulu.
RM90 had an eventful year, including a recent stint in rehabilitation at The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola hospital for malnutrition. She successfully gained weight and departed with a clean bill of health. She also had a fishing hook in her cheek that was being closely monitored, but she still appeared to be in good body condition when she was last seen on May 17, 2021. We conducted a post-mortem exam on May 25, in an effort to determine cause of death, and will provide updates on the results as they become available. At this time we have no indications foul play was involved.
Although the hook in RM90’s cheek did not appear to cause her death, it did lead to a brief entanglement in a net in April 2021. Thankfully, this incident was reported immediately to NOAA’s Marine Wildlife Hotline (888-256-9840), and the net was removed by Hawaii Marine Animal Response. To reduce the chances of harmful interactions with monk seals, we encourage the public to follow our guidelines for Fishing Around Seals and Turtles.
Loli'i Relocation Update
June 11, 2021
A team of our trained handlers and veterinarians successfully relocated endangered Hawaiian monk seal pup Lōli‘i on Thursday, June 10, 2021. He was moved from Kaimana Beach, in Waikīkī, to a less populated area. We are not announcing the location of his new home in order to further prevent interactions with people. We are happy to report, though, that he is settling in and exploring his new surroundings, like any curious young pup.
We had announced the relocation decision earlier in the week, after an extensive assessment of risks to Lōli‘i’s and the public’s safety. Our desire is that Lōliʻi grow up as a wild seal—with less human interaction—in the company of other wild monk seals.
Our team, along with Hawaii Marine Animal Response and other partners, will closely monitor Lōli‘i for the first few months at his new beach. In the meantime, after a job well done, RK96 (Kaiwi) will restore her energy reserves (mother seals don’t eat much—if anything—while nursing!). She’ll then begin a new reproductive cycle. Although monk seal weaning is abrupt, we may continue to see RK96 in the Kaimana Beach area because it’s one of her favorite spots to haul out and rest.
Stay tuned for our full feature story on the relocation effort, coming soon.
Federal and State Authorities Investigating Moloka'i Monk Seal Deaths
May 25, 2021
NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) and the State of Hawaiʻi Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) are investigating the circumstances surrounding the deaths of two endangered Hawaiian monk seals. They were found on the west side of Molokaʻi on April 27, 2021. Post-mortem exam results indicate that both seals died as a result of human-inflicted trauma. There was no indication of disease or other health concerns. These incidents bring the total number of suspicious deaths to at least seven on Molokaʻi since 2009.
The seals were 4-year-old male RJ08 and 3-year-old female RK92. Both were born on Molokaʻi and were known to frequent the west side. The two seals had been sighted in the week prior to their deaths and appeared to be in good health. Those with information about the deaths of these endangered Hawaiian monk seals should contact the NOAA OLE hotline at (800) 853-1964, DOCARE hotline at (808) 643-DLNR, or use the DLNRTip app.
There is a strong, deep-rooted tradition of natural resources stewardship on Molokaʻi, and we know that news of these deaths will be keenly felt by many on the island. We are grateful to the community and our response network partners for assisting with recovery and transportation of the seals. We continue to be committed to supporting community-based conservation efforts on the island for these native monk seals.
Hawaiian monk seals are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act, as well as Hawaiʻi Revised Statute 195D. There are only about 1,400 estimated alive today. Under the ESA, it is illegal to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt to engage in any such conduct with any endangered species.
Please report all monk seal sightings, injuries, and strandings to the NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline at (888) 256-9840.
Male Monk Seal Found Dead on South Shore of Kaua'i
April 27, 2021
NOAA Fisheries is saddened to report that 3-year old male Hawaiian monk seal R1NI was found deceased April 25, 2021, at a beach on the south shore of Kauaʻi. The cause of his death is currently unknown. R1NI was last sighted April 5, appeared to be in good body condition, and we were not monitoring him for any health concerns. We will conduct a postmortem examination to determine cause of death and provide updates as available.
Deceased Hawaiian Monk Seals Found on Moloka'i
February 11, 2021
A deceased Hawaiian monk seal was found by personnel from Hawaii Marine Animal Response near La‘au Point, Moloka‘i, on January 29, 2021. Under guidance from NOAA Fisheries, HMAR staff and a State Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officer examined the mummified carcass. They respectfully buried the seal near where it was found.
HMAR and DOCARE responded to another deceased adult monk seal on February 2, 2021, on the south shore of Moloka‘i. Heavy rain and difficult terrain prevented safe access to the carcass, so retrieving or burying the carcass was not possible. The remains were left in place to decompose naturally. Hawaiian cultural protocols were performed by a member of the community.
Because both carcasses were severely decomposed and we had limited ability to examine the remains, we have no indication of what caused these seals' deaths. Anyone with information about these or any seal deaths should call the NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline: (888) 256-9840.
"Entrapment" in Lay Gill Nets Likely Cause of Death for Juvenile Monk Seals
February 3, 2021
Lay gill nets have proven to be one of the top threats monk seals face in the main Hawaiian Islands.
NOAA Fisheries has completed post-mortem examinations of the juvenile male monk seal RL52 and an untagged juvenile female monk seal. The two monk seals were found dead on Kauaʻi on September 10, 2020, and November 18, 2020, respectively.
Both seals were in good body condition and their stomach contents suggest they had recently eaten. There was no evidence of underlying disease—such as toxoplasmosis, which is of particular concern—and no signs of injury. But fluid in the seals’ lungs suggest they struggled to breathe before death. Taken together, these findings strongly suggest that both seals died from being held underwater in a net and unable to breathe. This is referred to as peracute underwater entrapment (and similar to drowning).
We initially suspected and stated that RL52 had been shot because the seal had numerous small holes in its skin that closely resembled shotgun injuries. However, X-ray imagery and examination of the underlying blubber and muscle tissue showed no evidence of shotgun injuries or other trauma. The small holes were likely caused by scavengers and decomposition.
The causes for seal drownings have historically included entrapment in lay gill nets, entanglement in marine debris, and aggressive behavior by other seals. RL52 and the untagged female seal had no signs of injuries (such as bites or trauma) from other seals. And while we cannot rule out marine debris as the cause of death, we believe lay gill nets are the more reasonable explanation based on past net drowning history in Hawaiʻi and recent reports of lay gill nets set at night in the vicinity.
The use of lay gill nets, which pose significant risks to monk seals, sea turtles, and other protected species, is regulated by the state of Hawaiʻi. Hawaiʻi administrative rules require that lay gill nets may not be used during the period from 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise. View the list of other state restrictions on the use of lay gill nets in Hawaiʻi.
Lay gill nets have proven to be one of the top threats monk seals face in the main Hawaiian Islands. While many seal deaths go undetected, net drowning causes roughly 20 percent of known deaths in seals younger than 5 years old. A recent publication describes how natural and human-related causes of death affect the overall Hawaiian monk seal population.
If you have any information regarding the deaths of these seals or observe lay gill nets being used illegally, such as at night, contact DOCARE at (808) 643-DLNR, or use the DLNRTip app. You can also call the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement hotline at (800) 853-1964.
Report all monk seal sightings, injuries, and strandings to NOAA’s Marine Wildlife Hotline at (888) 256-9840.
Reward for Information About Recent Kaua'i Seal Deaths
November 24, 2020
You may receive a reward of up to $20,000 if you provide information about a violation that leads to the issuance of a civil penalty or criminal conviction.
The NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) is seeking information about the recent deaths of two Hawaiian monk seals along the shoreline of the Anahola area on the northeast shore of Kauaʻi around September 10 and November 18, 2020.
"The intentional killing of an endangered Hawaiian monk seal is a violation of federal law,” said Assistant Director Martina Sagapolu of OLE’s Pacific Islands Division. “It is our hope that this reward will encourage someone to provide us with the information needed to arrest and convict those who would commit such a heinous act."
OLE is investigating the causes of the two recents deaths on Kauaʻi and has sent enforcement personnel to Kauaʻi to investigate. OLE encourages anyone who may have information about the seal deaths to call the OLE hotline: 1-800-853-1964. A reward of up to $20,000 may be paid if you provide information about a violation regarding a monk seal that leads to the issuance of a civil penalty or criminal conviction.
Hawaiian monk seals are protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, with about 1,400 estimated alive today. Under the ESA, it is illegal to unlawfully “take,” meaning to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct with respect to any endangered species or wildlife listed on the Endangered Species List. NOAA Fisheries encourages the public to report all monk seal sightings to its statewide hotline: 888-256-9840.
The mission of NOAA OLE is to ensure compliance with the laws and regulations enacted to conserve and protect our nation’s marine resources. Those with information about the death of these endangered Hawaiian monk seals should contact the NOAA OLE enforcement hotline at 1-800-853-1964.
Yearling Monk Seal Found Dead on Kaua'i
September 16, 2020
NOAA Fisheries is saddened to report the death of RL52, a yearling male monk seal. He was found dead on September 10, 2020, along the Anahola coastline on Kaua‘i. It’s unknown how RL52 died. NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) and DLNR’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) are currently investigating the matter. RL52 was last seen on August 31, 2020 at North Larsen’s Beach, and he was in good body condition.
If you have any information regarding the death of this seal, please contact DOCARE at (808) 643-DLNR, or use the DLNRTip app. You can also call the OLE hotline at (800) 853-1964.
Please report all monk seal sightings, injuries, and strandings to the Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at (888) 256-9840.
Monk Seal RJ36 Found Dead with Fishing Line Coming from Mouth
July 15, 2020
We regret to report the unfortunate death of RJ36, a three-year-old male Hawaiian monk seal on Kauaʻi. On June 22, 2020, a concerned Kauaʻi resident discovered RJ36 in distress. The seal was lying on the beach and appeared to be struggling to breathe. Six feet of fishing line visibly trailed from the mouth and ended in a pigtail swivel, a type of gear commonly used for slide-bait fishing. The concerned citizen immediately contacted the marine mammal stranding hotline. Response staff quickly mobilized, but the seal died before they arrived on scene. The team retrieved the seal's body and NOAA preserved it for a future post-mortem exam.
Ingested hooks can be fatal for some seals, such as if the hook pierces a vital organ. Fortunately, early public reporting of hooked seals often provides response teams with enough time to successfully administer life-saving interventions. A post-mortem exam will evaluate the role the hook and other potential factors played in RJ36’s death.
RJ36 was born to the well-known female RK30 on the Nāpali Coast in 2017. Over the next 3 years, he became a somewhat regular seal on the south and west shores, easily identified by his red J36 and J37 plastic flipper tags.
NOAA and DLNR encourage the public to follow the guidelines for fishing around seals and turtles. These guidelines include watching your fishing gear closely and temporarily removing it if seals are in the area, never feeding seals, and using barbless hooks. If you do hook a seal, cut the line as close to the animal as possible to remove trailing gear. Report it to NOAA’s marine mammal stranding hotline at (888) 256-9840.
Hawaiian Monk Seal 2020 Pupdate
July 1, 2020
The 2020 Hawaiian monk seal pupping season is going by quickly! Since the beginning of the year, 18 monk seal pups were born in the main Hawaiian Islands: 5 on Oʻahu, 11 on Molokaʻi, and 1 each on Kaua‘i and Hawaiʻi Island. This follows a record-breaking pupping year in 2019, which saw 48 pups born in the main Hawaiian Islands (including Ni‘ihau).
While monk seal pups can be born any time of year, the number of births peak in spring and summer. Monk seals moms typically nurse their pups for 5 to 7 weeks, feeding them milk rich in fat that will increase their weight from 30 pounds at birth to nearly 200 pounds! During this time, the mother loses a great amount of weight and will abruptly wean the pup before departing to sea to forage and regain her strength. The pup will live off of its body fat as it practices foraging. It will venture farther and farther from the sands of its birth beach, eventually departing to forage at sea. Most females return to the beaches on which they were born to birth their own pups.
We usually do not disclose pupping locations. This helps maintain a calm environment with as little disturbance as possible to mom-pup pairs. While monk seals aren't typically considered aggressive, a nursing mom can be very protective. For some mom-pup pairs, this year was quieter than usual, due to the closure of various beach parks between late March and mid-May. Despite a reduced monitoring presence, staff and volunteers continued to perform spot checks, and all pups born during this time weaned successfully.
Beaches have been open for several weeks now. We ask members of the public enjoying Hawai‘i shorelines to view wildlife responsibly, keep dogs leashed, and maintain your distance from monk seals, especially moms and pups, for your safety and their protection. We would also like to remind the public to call 888-256-9840 to report sightings of Hawaiian monk seals or injured marine mammals and sea turtles.
Loss of Pregnant Monk Seal on Kaua'i
May 1, 2020
For the second time in a week, we have to share the unfortunate news that a Hawaiian monk seal has passed away. Pregnant adult female R313 was found dead at Hā'ena Beach, Kaua'i, on April 25, 2020. She was first identified on Kaua'i in 2009 and was at least 15 years old at the time of her death. The lifespan for a Hawaiian monk seal is 25–30 years, though a few individuals have lived longer. The loss of a female seal with many potential breeding years ahead of her is a setback to population recovery of this endangered species.
R313 was never observed with a pup. However, staff and volunteers with NOAA and the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources tracked her growing large and appearing pregnant on a number of occasions. She would then leave for about 6–8 weeks and return very thin, as though she had just weaned a pup. We assume that, like many Kaua'i seals, she went to a remote location on Ni'ihau to have her pups.
Our marine mammal and sea turtle stranding network partners have had to make operational decisions based on COVID-19 that impact our ability to respond to strandings and entanglement incidents. We used the fewest number of people possible, followed social distancing protocols, and used personal protective equipment while transporting the carcass to a remote location for burial. As in the case of R5AY (“Honey Girl”), who passed away a few days previously on O'ahu, our ability to conduct the typical post-mortem examinations (including a necropsy) was extremely limited. Adult monk seals, especially pregnant females, can weigh more than 500 pounds and may require a large team for transportation and necropsy.
In R313’s case, however, we were able to preserve her fetus and placenta and will perform necropsy and sampling as soon as it’s feasible. It is possible that this could provide us with additional information related to her cause of death. The most common causes of death in main Hawaiian Islands monk seals include fisheries interactions, trauma, and toxoplasmosis. Based on our limited examination, we cannot rule any of these out at this time. However, if her death was disease related we may be able to determine that from examining her fetus. There were no external signs of trauma such as wounds, but not all trauma is externally visible. There is currently no evidence to support claims that seals, whales, sea lions, or other marine mammals are infected with COVID-19.
The public should continue to report all sightings of stranded animals to the hotline: (888) 256-9840. As always, if you see a stranded monk seal, cetacean, or sea turtle, stay back a safe distance and follow marine wildlife viewing guidelines.
NOAA would like to extend our thanks to the Ocean Safety lifeguards and members of the local community who assisted with the response.
One of O'ahu's Most Well-Known Seals Has Passed Away
April 27, 2017
We are grieving the loss of a very special monk seal today. One of O‘ahu’s most well-known Hawaiian monk seals, R5AY (also known as Honey Girl), was found deceased on the windward side of O‘ahu on April 23, 2020. She was first identified on Kaua‘i in 2002 as an adult. She was at least 23 years old—and perhaps much older—at the time of her death. Honey Girl was frequently sighted and popular with O‘ahu residents, especially in the North Shore and windward communities where she was a long-time resident.
Our marine mammal and sea turtle stranding network partners have had to make operational decisions based on COVID-19 that impact our ability to respond to strandings and entanglement incidents. In order to decrease safety risks to members of the public, including the possibility of attracting sharks to the area or drawing a crowd of onlookers into close proximity with each other, NOAA worked with partners to move the carcass. We used the fewest number of people possible, followed social distancing protocols, and used personal protective gear. We transported Honey Girl to a safe and respectful location at Kualoa Ranch for burial. A Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner performed a pule (blessing) for Honey Girl.
Our ability to conduct the typical post-mortem examinations (including a necropsy) was extremely limited. As a result, our ability to determine Honey Girl’s cause of death is highly constrained. The most common causes of death in main Hawaiian Islands monk seals include fisheries interactions, trauma, and toxoplasmosis. Based on our limited examination, we cannot rule any of these out. There were no external signs of trauma such as wounds, but not all trauma is externally visible. Although blood was observed coming from the nose and mouth, this is not a clear indication of any specific cause of death. Trauma and fisheries interactions, such as entanglement, drowning, or hook ingestion, can affect seals of any age or sex. However, toxoplasmosis primarily affects female seals.
Honey Girl was thought to be pregnant at the time of her death, and at least two seals that have previously died from toxoplasmosis in the past were also pregnant. She had successfully given birth to many pups, so death due to other pregnancy complications is unlikely. Despite her age, Honey Girl was in excellent nutritional condition, and we do not have any information to suggest her health was failing because she was at the end of her life. There is currently no evidence to support claims that seals, whales, sea lions, or other marine mammals are infected with COVID-19.
Honey Girl frequented both O‘ahu and Kaua‘i the first few years after she was initially spotted. After 2005, she spent the vast majority of her time on the shores of O‘ahu, though she was sighted once on Moloka‘i in 2017. In 2012, she was rescued and rehabilitated because a fishing line entanglement caused deep lacerations and infection in her tongue. She was severely emaciated by the time she was caught, and she had a blanket of algae growing on her fur. Veterinarians performed surgery to remove almost half of her damaged tongue, and she was rehabilitated briefly at the Waikīkī Aquarium. She was released back into the wild and went on to give birth to five more pups in her lifetime.
She gave birth to a total of 12 pups between 2005 and 2019, two of which went on to have successful pups of their own. Although only two of her offspring are known to be alive today (RA20 and RK80), her legacy continues on through her grand-pups. Learn more about Honey Girl in this Monk Seal of the Month feature story from 2017.
Rocky's Pupdate From Kaua'i
Hawaiian monk seal "Rocky" (RH58) arrived on a remote beach on Kauai on Saturday, July 14. On Monday morning, July 16, she was observed with a new pup. Watch the video.
July 14, 2018
Hawaiian monk seal "Rocky" (RH58) arrived on a remote beach on Kauaʻi on Saturday, July 14. On Monday morning, July 16, she was observed with a new pup. Rocky and the pup both appear to be doing well. We have not determined if the pup is male or female at this time.
All photos and videos taken with a NMFS research permit.