Viewing Marine Life
Watching marine animals in their natural habitat can be a positive way to promote conservation and respect for animals and their environment.
2019 monk seal updates from NOAA Fisheries in the Pacific Islands.
We are saddened to report that recently-weaned male Hawaiian monk seal RL36, also known as Makoa, was found dead on the north shore of Oʻahu on the morning of November 9, 2019. We were unable to identify a definitive cause of death from examination and initial necropsy results. Tissue samples will be examined further to look for causes of death that could not be detected during the necropsy, and we will provide an update once we receive the results. RL36 was born to well-known seal R5AY (a.k.a. Honey Girl) and was given his nickname, which means fearless or brave, by local elementary school children. See update
RL76 was born between May 10-14, 2019, at Kalaupapa, Molokaʻi. On July 22, partners from the National Park Service noticed that she had swelling around her head and face, was breathing abnormally, and was staying close to shore in shallow water (a sign that a seal may be in too much pain to swim). The following day, a small team of NOAA Fisheries and The Marine Mammal Center staff were dispatched to Molokaʻi to capture the seal and bring her to Kona for rehabilitation at Ke Kai Ola. The US Coast Guard assisted in transport and, although they had to divert to another island to respond to a person in need of aide, were still able to get RL76 to the Center’s hospital, Ke Kai Ola, the morning of July 24. Despite the very best efforts made by the veterinary and animal care team at Ke Kai Ola, RL76 passed away the following week as a result of her injuries. NOAA is grateful to the National Park Service, The Marine Mammal Center, and the US Coast Guard for doing everything possible to try to save RL76. While we may not have been successful this time, there are many seals that are alive today thanks to these and other wonderful partners working hard to conserve Hawaiʻi's native seal.
NOAA Fisheries is saddened to report the death of yearling male Hawaiian monk seal, RK88, also known as "Kuokala." He was found dead at Camp Erdman, Ka'ena Point on the afternoon of August 21, 2019. Necropsy and histopathology results support drowning in a lay gillnet as the cause of death. RK88's nutritional condition was being closely monitored earlier in the year, but he was sighted regularly in the weeks prior to his death in good body condition. Post-mortem test results confirmed that RK88 was healthy at the time of death and there was no evidence of underlying disease or other health concerns. NOAA encourages the public to follow the Fishing Around Seals and Turtles guidelines. Report illegal gillnets to the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources hotline at (808) 643-DLNR (3567).
NOAA researchers at our Northwestern Hawaiian Islands field camps discovered two exciting monk seal pupping events in 2019. Both were on Lisianski Island.
When the monk seal field team landed on Lisianski in late May 2019, they discovered 14-year-old mom GV18, in her reproductive prime, with two pups! Could they be twins?
We know that monk seal moms occasionally adopt a second pup, but this usually lasts for only a short period of time because either the mother or the larger pup will drive the adopted pup away. In this case, no other seal mothers were missing a pup and GV18’s two pups were similarly sized, suggesting they were twins. GV18 nursed both pups together and weaned them at a slightly smaller than normal size about a week after being encountered.
A previous review of nearly 5,000 monk seal births over 26 years (1983–2008) revealed only seven sets of twin pups. Thus, monk seal twinning is exceptionally rare, occurring in only 0.1 percent of all births! DNA analysis on those twin pups confirmed they were all fraternal twins, not identical.
This year’s “twins” are not identical, either, as one pup is a girl and the other a boy. When we tag weaned pups, we also collect “snips” of tissue that hold the key to each seal’s genetic makeup. We will have to wait for DNA results on these snips to confirm if the Lisianski pups are indeed twins, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed that we have discovered another rare case of twin monk seal pups.
Born on Laysan Island in 1990, TG28 is a very special lady, having begun her pupping career as an 8-year-old. For reference, the youngest mom in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is 5 years old, though only a handful of 5-year-olds have pupped. TG28 was a homebody most of her life, but in 2015, at age 25, she packed up and moved over to nearby Lisianski.
TG28 is also a member of the equally exclusive Most Productive Mom Club. The record number of pups for a single mother is 18, a record held by just one mom.Two other moms are tied with TG28 at 17 pups each. We are hoping to find TG28 next year with a new pup—tying the records for both oldest mom and mom with the most pups.
Follow our monk seal researchers’ journey in the 2019 field camp story map.
On June 23, 2019, a conscientious fisherman reported to NOAA that he hooked a seal. Volunteers and staff with Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response and Kaʻena Point State Park located the seal after nearly two weeks of searching, and NOAA staff subsequently captured the adult seal this past Independence Day weekend and brought him in for care. NOAA Fisheries Hawaiian Monk Seal Program veterinarians successfully removed a hook, line, and sinker from the stomach of the seal using endoscope technology. After observing and treating the seal at the NOAA facility on Ford Island, NOAA released the seal at Mokulēʻia Beach, Oʻahu over the weekend. NOAA Fisheries is looking forward to working with the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources and the fishing community to develop a comprehensive plan to prevent future monk seal hookings.
On Saturday, April 20, 2019, NOAA Fisheries staff and responders with Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response recovered the carcass of a days-old, male Hawaiian monk seal pup at Baby Makapu‘u tide pools, in Waimanalo, and transported it to the NOAA Inouye Regional Center facility. We do not currently know the identity of the pup's mother. We will conduct a postmortem examination on April 29, 2019, in an effort to determine a cause of death, and we will provide updates as they become available.
Adult female Hawaiian monk seal found dead.
Since the initial update regarding the death of RI37/Ipo, NOAA Fisheries has been pursuing additional analyses to help discern the cause of her death and would like to share what we have learned. Substantial decomposition made it difficult to come to a definitive conclusion, but we were able to rule out many potential causes of mortality.
There was no evidence of toxoplasmosis or leptospirosis. Given all the information we were able to gather, we believe it is most likely that the death was caused by a traumatic injury. It is important to note that we do not have enough information to speculate as to the type of injury, and we cannot rule out natural vs. human-caused, so we are not treating this as a suspicious incident at this time. Our findings suggest that the injury was fairly recent, but did not cause immediate mortality, and we do not believe the injury occurred in the location of the stranding. There was no evidence of head trauma, no external scrapes/cuts/bruises, and we did not identify any broken bones; however, it is possible that blunt trauma caused injury to the soft tissues.
We are saddened to report that adult female Hawaiian monk seal RI37 (born to the well known seal R5AY, or "Honey Girl") was found dead on the west side of Oʻahu on the morning of February 5, 2019. The initial examination and necropsy did not reveal a definitive cause of death, primarily due to decomposition. RI37 was in excellent nutritional condition and was not pregnant at the time of death. Tissue samples will be examined further to look for causes of death that could not be detected during the necropsy.