Viewing Marine Life
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Get the latest monk seal updates from NOAA Fisheries in the Pacific Islands.
NOAA Fisheries and The Marine Mammal Center regret to report that Hawaiian monk seal RM28 died on January 16. She was being treated for injuries, consistent with severe shark bites, at The Marine Mammal Center’s Hawaiian monk seal hospital, Ke Kai Ola, on Hawaiʻi Island.
Days earlier, the Kauaʻi Marine Wildlife Stranding Hotline received several reports from concerned residents of an injured seal floating nearshore. Kauaʻi staff immediately responded and discovered RM28, a 3-year-old female Kauaʻi-born seal, with serious external injuries likely caused by a large shark. Before considering intervention with any monk seal, we closely assess whether the seal may be able to heal on its own, or if some kind of intervention is appropriate. In the case of RM28, after careful assessment using an underwater pole camera, a team of veterinarians and biologists determined that the injuries were likely fatal without treatment, and initiated a rescue plan.
A Kauaʻi interagency team of NOAA and Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) staff carefully placed the seal in a transport cage. They provided supportive care to RM28 while awaiting transport by the U.S. Coast Guard to Ke Kai Ola for longer-term medical care. An initial assessment by the Center’s experts confirmed the injuries as critical; however, the seal was in stable condition and treatment continued. Over the next few days, RM28 continued to receive medical care, including pain medication, antibiotics, and time to rest comfortably in a safe, protected pool.
RM28 showed some slightly encouraging signs of improvement, such as eating a fish, but her condition remained critical. Sadly, the seal passed away after 6 days of effort to save her. A routine post-mortem exam was performed later that day by a joint team of Ke Kai Ola and NOAA experts. Although the team is saddened to lose her, we are grateful that we were collectively able to provide her with the best chance at life and reduce her pain and suffering in her final days.
NOAA is grateful to our partners who played a role in RM28’s treatment and care, as well as the community members who reported seeing RM28. She was a well known seal on Kauaʻi, born to the prolific female RK28 in 2020, and frequently sighted all around the island. The loss of a healthy young female seal and her potential future offspring is a set-back in recovery of the species. But we continue to learn from these cases and will apply these lessons to helping seals in the future.
Early reporting is essential to animals in need, as they may have life-threatening injuries like RM28 and require immediate attention. Report any Hawaiian monk seal sighting to the NOAA Fisheries Marine Wildlife Hotline at (888) 256-9840.
We’ve been monitoring the health of veteran monk seal mother R016 (“Right Spot”) over the past few months, with help from community reports and our eyes-on-the-ground partner Hawaii Marine Animal Response (HMAR).
When R016 weaned her pup RQ72 (“Lehiwa”) in mid-September, she looked very thin. She had lost a lot of weight while nursing and appeared to have a possible injury (of unknown cause) to her left eye. Thankfully, her condition appears to be improving and she is slowly gaining weight. We will continue to monitor her left eye.
Life as a mother can be hard work! It’s normal and expected for Hawaiian monk seal mothers to lose weight during the nursing period. After all, they don’t eat for the entire 5–7 weeks they nurse their pup! Once they wean (leave) their pup, they spend a few months trying to regain that weight before beginning another energetically taxing activity—molting their fur.
It takes time for all mother seals to regain their weight after nursing their pups. In addition, R016 is one of the oldest adult females in the population, so we are mindful that she is approaching the upper range of a monk seal’s typical lifespan. Often, seals that are showing their age will have a harder time putting on or maintaining weight after physiological stressors such as pregnancy, nursing, and molting.
Community members reported sightings of R016 to the NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline. This helped our partners at HMAR locate her and collect information on her behavior, body condition, and eyes. HMAR and community members shared these observations and photos with our team at NOAA Fisheries, adding to a collection of observations and allowing us to track R016’s progression over time. In assessing R016’s eye progression through photos and in-person observations, we determined that antibiotics would be appropriate. We administered two doses of antibiotics to help her eye recover, and we are watching her progress closely.
Her body condition appears to be gradually improving with time, which indicates that she is gaining weight. We remain cautiously optimistic that R016’s condition will continue to improve, and that she will reach a normal weight after molting.
R016’s body will fill out—her vertebrae, hip bones, and ribs will become less visible.
So far, we have not been able to determine the cause of the issue with R016’s left eye. She tends to keep it closed during most observations. We will continue monitoring her eye, but her increase in weight suggests that the issue is not impacting her natural behaviors. We have observed many monk seals in the wild with eye issues, and only rarely do they require intervention.
We are very fortunate to have well-known individual seals and a community of support that enables us to monitor seals with health concerns while allowing them to remain in their natural environment. We have facilities and partnerships to care for animals in rehabilitation, but that is a decision that we take great care in making. Capture, transport, and handling are all necessary parts of the rehabilitation process, and these interventions are stressful to wild animals. We carefully weigh the balance of stress versus assistance on the animal, and typically avoid rehabilitation unless it is clear that it’s absolutely necessary.
We’re expecting R016 to start her molt sometime soon. Molting is very energetically taxing on a seal, and seals tend to fast while they molt. It could take time to see significant additional improvements in R016’s body condition. It is possible that we will see her gain some weight leading up to molting, and then lose weight again during molting.
The duration of the molting process (typically 1–2 weeks) and other molting factors may further inform us of her overall health status. For instance, a delayed start to molt or a molt that is taking a long time to complete can be an indication that her underlying health is declining. This can be observed in older seals that are nearing the end of their lives.
NOAA Fisheries and our partners at HMAR will continue to monitor R016’s status. We thank all community members who contributed photos to the monitoring effort thus far. We continue to welcome reports of all seal sightings to the NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline at (888) 256-9840.
When it comes to Hawaiian monk seal RH58 (“Rocky”), she and her descendants are no stranger to doing things first (giving birth to pups in Waikīkī immediately jumps to mind!). And now one of the latest generations is following in those trailblazing footsteps on Lānaʻi.
NOAA Fisheries is excited to report that 4.5-year-old monk seal R00K (“ʻImikai”) has given birth to and weaned her first pup on a remote Lāna‘i beach. With much help from our partner Pūlama Lānaʻi, we outfitted the healthy female pup with flipper tags at the end of July. The pup’s permanent ID is RQ88.
With just 1,500 Hawaiian monk seals left in the wild, every new pup is special. But RQ88 is particularly noteworthy for a few reasons:
A local fisherman first reported ʻImikai and the pup on July 1, 2022. This was at the same beach at which ʻImikai was born in January 2018 to Rocky’s Kauaʻi-born daughter, RB00. ʻImikai nursed RQ88 for about 5 weeks and weaned her at the end of July. Dr. Rachel Sprague, Director of Conservation with Pūlama Lānaʻi, and her team monitored the mom-pup pair throughout the nursing period. They helped us apply RQ88’s flipper tags after she weaned. Two of Sprague’s biologists are from Lānaʻi, and are the first Lānaʻi-grown biologists to tag a Lānaʻi-born seal!
RQ88 is only the 5th known seal since 2014 to be born on Lānaʻi.
We may not have known about RQ88 if not for the quick reporting by the local Lānaʻi fisherman. You can help us keep track of and protect Hawaiian monk seals by reporting any seal sightings to the NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline: (888) 256-9840.
NOAA Fisheries is happy to report that Hawaiian monk seal pup RQ58, “Koalani,” is doing well at his new beach. Our monitoring and response partner, Hawaii Marine Animal Response (HMAR), has been on site daily to help watch over the pup. Based on reports from HMAR and data from the temporary satellite tag, Koalani appears healthy and is exhibiting normal behavior for a weaned seal pup. It’s been rewarding to see the pup doing so well, and we share this outcome with everyone who’s been so invested in the pup’s well-being these past weeks.
“It is so wonderful to see Koalani resting and exploring peacefully without disturbance,” said Diana Kramer, Regional Stranding Coordinator, NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands region. “This quiet environment allows Koalani to focus on exploring the natural features of his environment rather than interacting with humans.”
This environment will allow Koalani to develop the skills he’ll need to succeed in the wild, as he faces the many challenges monk seals must overcome throughout their lifetime.
Onsite beach observations and satellite tag data show Koalani exploring the shallow coastline around his new beach. He has also taken a few longer swims around the reef area and even into deeper offshore water, on a few occasions going as far out as 2-3 nautical miles into water around 100 meters, or over 300 feet, deep! All of this is normal and expected behavior for a weaned seal pup. His swims around the reef and into deeper water will help him develop the foraging skills he’ll need to hunt for prey such as crabs, squid, octopus, eels, and fish.
NOAA Fisheries and HMAR will continue to monitor Koalani over the coming months, and we look forward to seeing him grow!
NOAA Fisheries and partners have successfully relocated male Hawaiian monk seal pup Koalani from busy Kaimana Beach, Waikīkī, to a remote Oʻahu shoreline.
The new location will allow Koalani to grow up wild and in the company of other monk seals, rather than surrounded by thousands of people every day during the most impressionable period of his life.
On the evening of August 18, after confirming that Rocky had weaned Koalani, NOAA Fisheries carefully recovered and transferred Koalani into a transport kennel, with on-the-beach support from Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DLNR DOCARE) and Honolulu Police Department (HPD) officers. Once Koalani was safely in his kennel, the team of trained handlers and veterinarians carefully loaded him onto the back of a government vehicle and drove him to our NOAA facilities.
Koalani remained at our facility overnight in a large enclosure built for monk seals. On the morning of August 19, we applied flipper tags and a temporary satellite tag to Koalani so that we can monitor him post-release. He was assigned RQ58 as his permanent NOAA Fisheries ID. He also received a vaccination to protect him from morbillivirus, or phocine distemper, infection in the future. When Koalani and the team were ready, they headed out for the final leg of his journey to a new beach.
When we released Koalani, he headed to the water and began exploring the area. The satellite tag he carries will provide information on his movement patterns for several weeks. Our non-profit partner Hawaii Marine Animal Response (HMAR) will be assisting us with monitoring the pup over the coming weeks, and together we’ll provide updates to the community on how the pup is settling in.
Koalani was safe and well cared for throughout this relocation, with multiple veterinarians and biologists planning for and overseeing every step. Weaned pups are incredibly resilient and do very well during activities such as this. Their naiveness and curiosity, which is a risk if left in place around large groups of people, makes them very adaptable and reduces their stress during relocations. Koalani was a perfect traveler, and there were no concerns for his health and welfare throughout.
We want to extend a big mahalo to HMAR, as well as DLNR DOCARE, the City and County of Honolulu’s Ocean Safety and Department of Parks and Recreation, HPD, and area businesses such as Kaimana Beach Hotel, for their contributions and hard work overseeing mom and pup.
And we'd like to extend a very special mahalo to the local community for stepping up to show your support and respect for these truly amazing and lovable seals. Rocky and Koalani will always have a special place in our hearts—and hopefully yours, too!
After an extensive risk assessment, NOAA Fisheries has decided to relocate male Hawaiian monk seal pup PO8 (“Koalani”) from Kaimana Beach, Waikīkī, to a remote Oʻahu shoreline after he is weaned. As with previous pup relocation efforts, such as the 2021 Kaimana Beach pup PO2 (“Lōliʻi”), this move is for the pup’s safety. It will allow Koalani to grow up wild and in the company of other wild monk seals, rather than on a highly populated beach.
Koalani was born at Kaimana Beach on July 9, 2022, to RH58 (“Rocky”), who has birthed 13 other pups, most on Kauaʻi. Rocky showed signs that weaning was imminent for Koalani on August 17. When a mother seal weans her pup, she begins to stop nursing and guiding the pup, ultimately leaving it as a now-independent seal. The pup must learn how to forage and survive on its own. The mother begins to forage for food and restore her energy reserves—mother seals eat little to nothing while nursing—and begin a new reproductive cycle. Weaning is often abrupt, but occasionally can be a little less exact. In these instances, mothers may leave their pup and return again within about 12 hours. This extended gap in their bond is an indication that weaning is occurring and at this time, the pup is nutritionally and developmentally independent. The pair may briefly reunite for several hours, followed by the mother making her final departure.
Rocky’s pattern with her previous 13 pups is typically to make a single, final departure. Occasionally, she has come back for one final round of nursing and then departed to forage. Because Kaimana Beach is a regular haul-out, or resting, area for Rocky, there is a good chance we may see her back on that beach, even in the first few days following weaning. This does not mean she is looking for her pup; rather, she is resting in a spot familiar to her.
Leaving Koalani at Kaimana Beach after weaning carries a set of risks, as does relocating him to any other beach. And each time we identify a seal that may need potential intervention, like Koalani, we conduct a careful and thorough risk assessment. Our risk assessment began determining what the dangers and benefits were of leaving him in place after weaning. We then did a review of beaches to which Koalani could be relocated, if that was in his best interest. Our team looked at several categories of risks, some of which included:
Our team whittled the dozen or so potential beaches down to the top three with the lowest level of risks. We then delved deeper into the short- and long-term risks associated with each beach and carefully weighed them against the risks of leaving Koalani at Kaimana Beach.
Habituation is the largest issue with leaving Koalani in place. A young seal that receives positive interactions from people, such as through attention, play, or being fed, will continue to seek out humans for these interactions. The seal may rely on people for interactions, rather than developing the skills it needs to forage for food and interact with other seals in the wild. It may also not learn to avoid marine hazards. As it grows larger, the seal can become a danger to people. Past habituated seals, for instance, have blocked people from leaving the water, sometimes even by grabbing them from behind. A fed seal could also become reliant on people for food, unable to survive in the wild on its own. Or it may become aggressive toward people if it doesn’t receive food from them.
Being on a busy beach like Kaimana significantly increases the potential for interactions between seals and humans. Koalani and Rocky have already had run-ins with the public—on July 24, protective mother Rocky bit a swimmer who got too close to the pair.
Ultimately, we determined that Koalani has the greatest chance for survival and living a normal life as a wild seal at a more remote location with significantly less people present. His new home also offers a higher potential for interactions with other seals, including juvenile seals he can play with and learn from, which will foster his development.
As Koalani grows older, he will expand his range. He will still have to face many threats, and he will find his preferred spots to forage, haul out, and interact with other seals. Maybe he will encounter some of his siblings, and maybe he’ll even show up in Waikīkī once in a while.
Hawaiian monk seal pups can get quite round when nursing—and that’s a good thing! They need that added weight to survive post-weaning as they learn to feed themselves. But sometimes pups need a little extra help—like RQ76.
RQ76 was born to first-time mom RH76 (Kala), on June 6, 2022, on Mānana Island, which is a State Seabird Sanctuary on Oʻahu. The pup, later tagged with the permanent ID RQ76, appeared smaller than average for pups born in the main Hawaiian Islands. And the pup’s mother was also noticeably thinner than average for Hawaiian monk seal mothers. Adult female monk seals rely upon their fat reserves to produce milk for their nursing pups. They also fast during the nursing period. A female without sufficient fat reserves may have to wean her pup on the earlier end of the nursing period in order to depart to forage for herself.
With this in mind, we kept a close eye on RQ76 through the nursing period. We had much assistance from Oʻahu monk seal conservation supporters and our response partner Hawaii Marine Animal Response. During this time, Malama Honua Charter School in Waimanalo gifted RQ76 the name Malama, which means light, month, or moon.
A NOAA Fisheries team visited Mānana Island on July 12, to tag RQ76. We learned that the newly weaned pup is female. We also assessed that she was smaller than most Hawaiian monk seal pups her age. Size is important for a pup’s survival. While their teeth develop, and they learn to forage for food on their own, Hawaiian monk seal pups rely on the weight gained from nursing to get through the initial first months without their mothers. RQ76’s low weight concerned us—would she have the fat reserves necessary to sustain her as she learned to survive on her own?
Every time we identify a seal that may need potential intervention, we conduct a careful and thorough risk assessment. We determine what, if any, intervention is needed to give the seal the best chance of survival in the wild.
In RQ76’s case, we assessed that approximately 1 month in the wild post-weaning would allow her to develop some skills she would need to survive, such as basic foraging and socialization skills. This time in the wild would hopefully give her a head start, potentially reducing the amount of time she would need in rehabilitation, and a basic foundation for once she is released from rehabilitation. However, leaving her on her own much longer than that could put her health and ability to survive at risk. And female seal survival is especially important to growing the population of this endangered species.
On August 4, a NOAA Fisheries team planned and successfully rescued RQ76 from Mānana Island. Upon rescuing her, we found she had lost additional weight. Weight loss is expected for post-weaned pups, but given RQ76’s already small size, it only reinforced that rehabilitation was the right course of action for her survival.
After an examination, blood work, and initial treatment, we transported RQ76 to a place where she could receive longer-term care: The Marine Mammal Center’s Hawaiian monk seal hospital, Ke Kai Ola, in Kona, Hawaiʻi. There, she joined one other patient, the male pup WQ08 (Ikaika), who is also undergoing rehabilitation for being underweight.
Once RQ76 gains weight and demonstrates the free-feeding skills she needs to survive, we will work with partners to release her back into the wild.
Give them space—that’s one of the main messages we emphasize when it comes to endangered Hawaiian monk seals. Space is especially important for mother seals with pups.
On July 24, 2022, RH58 (“Rocky”) showed us how protective mothers can be around their young. The seal and her pup were out for a morning swim in the Kaimana Beach area in Waikīkī, when a nearby swimmer caught the seals’ attention. RH58 began vocalizing at the swimmer. Biologists believe mother monk seals vocalize to warn other seals to stay away and to communicate with their pups.
Ultimately, RH58 pursued the swimmer—a perceived threat to her pup—and the encounter resulted in the swimmer sustaining injuries. We wish the swimmer a speedy recovery, and we also urge people to follow guidance from safety and wildlife officials. The best thing you can do when it comes to mother seal interactions is to avoid them. Hawaiʻi has so many amazing beaches: Choose to use another area for water activities for the 5 to 7 weeks that monk seal pups nurse.
If you’re in an area where mother seals with pups have been spotted, we urge you to stay at least 150 feet away from mother seals with pups on land and in the water.
NOAA and response partner Hawaii Marine Animal Response have had warning signs and protective fencing in place at Kaimana since the day the pup was born. HMAR volunteers are on site daily to monitor the pair. While the recommended distances are guidelines rather than laws, we strongly advise people to follow them—for personal safety as well as the seals’ protection.
Images of monk seals resting on the beach can make the seals seem non-threatening. And generally speaking, it’s true—monk seals are not usually aggressive toward people. But when it comes to their babies, natural instincts kick in. Mother seals can be very protective and territorial, and we’ve seen examples in which mothers have inflicted serious wounds on nearby swimmers. In the water, seals are in their natural element and can move faster than any human, so listen to guidance from authorities and give them space.
Since the interaction, RH58 and her growing pup appear to be doing fine. In the weeks ahead, they will spend more time in the water and venture farther out as the pup gains strength.
We anticipate RH58 will nurse the pup until the week of August 14, 2022, based on her past pupping behavior. At that point, she’ll wean him, and we may relocate him to a less populated location, as we have done for the other two seals, Kaimana and Lōliʻi, born at Kaimana Beach. In the meantime, please be alert and keep a respectful distance from these amazing endangered animals!
After some incredible teamwork, juvenile Hawaiian monk seal RP92 finally made his way back home to Kalaupapa on Molokaʻi on July 8, 2022!
RP92’s journey began just over a month ago when we got a call from our National Park Service (NPS) partners at Kalaupapa National Historical Park.
They spotted RP92 during a routine survey with fishing gear trailing from his mouth. We consulted with response partners from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, The Marine Mammal Center, and NPS. We determined that the seal was most likely suffering from an ingested hook. The situation was life threatening, and the life of each seal is critical to this endangered species’ survival.
An immediate rescue was questionable given Kalaupapa’s remote location and limited outside access. But the National Park Service gathered a team of responders and, with guidance from our experts, quickly and safely captured RP92. NPS monitored the seal until the following day when we could arrive on island. Meanwhile, other members of our team secured a special charter flight for the seal. Soon he’d be on his way to receive emergency care at The Marine Mammal Center’s Hawaiian monk seal hospital, Ke Kai Ola, on Hawaiʻi Island!
At the Center, veterinarians performed a tricky extraction of a large, barbed circle hook located just over RP92’s larynx. The hook was in such a challenging position that the team had to cut it on the way out and remove it in two pieces. Fortunately, the veterinary team worked their magic and the hook removal was a success.
RP92 spent the next several weeks in recovery care at the Center. With the hook out of his throat, RP92 began eating more, enjoying the fresh fish from the Center staff. The veterinary team evaluated the seal’s progress and cleared the now-healthy patient to head back home. Only this time, RP92 flew back to Molokaʻi with the U.S. Coast Guard!
On July 8, our joint rescue mission was complete. Together, NOAA Fisheries, NPS, the Center, and the Coast Guard released RP92 back into the wild at Kalaupapa.
We’ll be able to track RP92’s movements post-release through a temporary satellite tag. The tag will enable us to monitor the seal’s success, and obtain valuable data to help the conservation efforts of other seals on Molokaʻi.
Often conservation work takes many hands, and we are so lucky to have a big ʻohana of rescue rangers to mālama these special seals!
You, too, can help Hawaiian monk seals by reporting any seal sightings to the NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline: (888) 256-9840.
It’s confirmed—RH58's new pup is a male. This is the seal's sixth male pup!
We’re happy to confirm that Hawaiian monk seal RH58, also known as Rocky, gave birth on July 9 at Kaimana Beach in Waikīkī, Oʻahu. NOAA Fisheries and our response partner Hawaii Marine Animal Response are monitoring the mother and pup.
We ask that people please give the pair plenty of space to avoid disturbing them. We want to ensure RH58 remains with her pup, and the pup gets the nutrition it needs to develop properly.
NOAA Fisheries recommends giving Hawaiian monk seal mothers and pups at least 150 feet of space on land and in the water.
Mother seals can be very protective of their young and are more likely to exhibit territorial behavior with a pup. Stay behind any fencing or signs and listen carefully to the instructions of officials on site. Monk seals can move especially fast in the water. Be sure to give them extra space and be alert when you’re in the water.
We expect the pair will remain in the Kaimana Beach area for approximately 5 to 7 weeks while the pup nurses.
At 22 years old, Kauaʻi-born RH58 is a veteran mom. The seal first swam to Oʻahu at 3 years old and soon after became an Oʻahu regular, only returning to Kauaʻi to pup.
RH58 has given birth to almost all of her 14 pups on Kauaʻi, with the exception of now two pups in Waikīkī! In June 2017, RH58 was the first seal known to give birth on Kaimana Beach. That pup, RJ58, is also known as Kaimana.
RH58 is one of the older females currently pupping in the main Hawaiian Islands. Female Hawaiian monk seals can pup into their mid- to late- 20s, and possibly even older.
Hawaiian monk seals are an endangered species, and only about 1,500 are left in the world. If you encounter a Hawaiian monk seal, we ask that you keep a distance of at least 50 feet, or 150 feet for mothers with pups. Also please keep dogs on a leash, and call the NOAA Fisheries Marine Wildlife Hotline at (888) 256-9840 to report any monk seal sightings.
In May, our monk seal biologists began their 4-month deployment to Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The teams have been busy setting up camp and conducting field studies. They also spent a lot of time saving seals in a variety of ways, including disentangling seals caught in marine debris and reuniting pups separated from their mothers.
Updates from our field teams are rolling in, and we have exciting news from the scientists on Kamole (Laysan Island): they’ve confirmed a whopping 51 pups were born this year already!
To put this in perspective, the average number of annual births on Kamole was 35.2 over the 45-year period from 1977 to 2021*. These births ranged from a low of 17 to a high of 58.
This is only the second time we know of that the number of births in a year has reached 50 or more on Kamole. We are seeing more pregnant females. We can hardly wait to see if the final number of pups will surpass the island’s long-standing record of 58 births set more than two decades ago in 1999!
This is important news, as Kamole is one of the top pup-producing locations across the entire Hawaiian Archipelago—it accounts for about 20 percent of all pups born in a year!
This news follows on the heels of another recent milestone: the endangered Hawaiian monk seal population surpassed 1,500 for the first time in more than two decades.
Stay tuned for the end of season report after the teams return in early September!
*Note: The annual averages do not include data from 2020 due to the pandemic.
With heavy hearts, we are sharing that 19-year-old Hawaiian monk seal RE74, also known as “Benny,” has passed away. We and our partners confirmed RE74’s identity after receiving a report of a dead seal at Mokuleʻia, Oʻahu, on June 17, 2022. RE74 was beloved by many in the community and held a special place in our hearts as we observed him throughout the years.
RE74 had a long history with NOAA Fisheries and our partners working on Hawaiian monk seal conservation. Born on Kaua‘i in August 2002, he spent the first few years of his life there before becoming a regular on O‘ahu in 2005. RE74 was commonly sighted at a variety of locations, including Ka‘ena Point, Mokuleʻia, Turtle Bay, Mānana Island, Ala Moana, Ewa Beach, Nānākuli, and Pokaʻi Bay, among others. RE74’s varied sighting locations allowed residents and visitors across O‘ahu to enjoy spotting him.
RE74 overcame a number of challenges in his life. NOAA Fisheries performed not one, but two life-saving surgeries for him to remove ingested fishing hooks—once in 2014, and again in 2016. Over the course of his life, RE74 was hooked a total of nine times (that we know of)!
RE74’s fishery interactions helped us learn a lot about the endangered Hawaiian monk seal population. For example, a temporary satellite tag we placed on him after his first surgery provided us with important data on Hawaiian monk seal movement patterns.
RE74’s contributions to our scientific knowledge of Hawaiian monk seals didn’t end there! We were able to collect samples from him that provided new insights into the Hawaiian monk seal genome. In fact, RE74 was the very first Hawaiian monk seal whose genome was sequenced! We gained a deeper understanding of critical topics such as genetic factors associated with disease, Hawaiian monk seal family trees, and seal adaptations to specific environments.
In another first, RE74 was one of the initial monk seals in the main Hawaiian Islands to be fully vaccinated against the phocine (seal-affecting) morbillivirus. This is also known as phocine distemper virus and is similar to the canine distemper virus. This helped pave the way for many future seals to be vaccinated against this potentially fatal virus.
At almost 20 years old at his passing, RE74 was nearing the time in his life when male monk seals tend to begin aging out of the population. On June 21, 2022, we conducted a post mortem examination on RE74, and based on the physical exam, we were unable to determine a clear cause of death. We are awaiting tissue sample analysis and plan to share those results once available. Regardless, we know that RE74’s contributions to science and to our enjoyment of viewing the endangered Hawaiian monk seal will leave a lasting legacy for all of those who cared for him.
Mahalo to our partners Hawaii Marine Animal Response and the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources for their kōkua in supporting the conservation of RE74 and other Hawaiian monk seals over the years. And we also want to share a big mahalo to our community members for sharing updates on RE74, and other Hawaiian monk seals, through our Marine Wildlife Hotline: (888) 256-9840. Those reports are important contributions to our shared knowledge and protection of this endangered species.
In May 2022, NOAA’s Hawaiian monk seal field research teams deployed aboard the NOAA ship Oscar Elton Sette to five sites in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. These scientists conduct population surveys and conservation interventions in the Monument each season, including disentangling seals from marine debris, translocating seals to improve survival, and treating injuries. They collect most of the data that feeds into population updates such as this year’s good news.
On May 19, the scientific team was conducting surveys and setting up the camp at Laysan Island (Kamole). They secured tents and offloaded water, food, and supplies to last until the ship returns in August. Conducting surveys at this site typically entails about 4–6 hours of walking over approximately 7 miles of beach while photographing seals, recording data, and handling weaned pups to apply flipper tags and give them their first morbillivirus vaccine. The three-person survey team was about 2 hours into their hike when they encountered a very small pup. They looked all over for any sign of its mother, to no avail. They saw many other mother seals nursing pups nearby, but this particular one seemed to have been weaned before it nursed long enough. Moreover, the pup was female and therefore warranted intervention.
Fortunately, a partnership between NOAA and The Marine Mammal Center has brought hope for seals like this one since 2014. We used to leave struggling seal pups alone, but The Marine Mammal Center now has a facility dedicated to giving them a second chance: Ke Kai Ola. The logistics of transporting seals from the remote reaches of Papahānaumokuākea to Ke Kai Ola on Hawaiʻi Island are far from simple, but this partnership has made it possible to get more than 35 seals into life-saving care (and back again).
The first thing the field team needed to do was get the pup, now known by her flipper tags as WQ22, from the beach to the ship. Small (usually about 20 feet long) boats are used to go between the ship and the islands during these research efforts, but some long stretches of Laysan’s coastline are too shallow for boats to reach. The scientists used a stretcher net, which looks like a hammock strung between two poles, to lift and carry her to the nearest accessible beach where the boat could meet them. While she was small and underweight for a baby monk seal—and almost certain to die without help—the pup still weighed 52 lb. The three-person team had to take turns carrying her the 1.5 miles. They met the veterinary team at the end of the trek who took her to the ship and got her settled onboard. Among the NOAA scientific team on the ship is a veterinary technician and veterinarian who can quickly accommodate patients by turning parts of the ship into a mobile clinical laboratory and fish kitchen.
About an hour later, the survey team radioed that they had located another pup that was a little bigger than WQ22 but still not large enough to survive on its own. Though the pup was male, the veterinary team decided that he met the criteria for transport as well, particularly because rehabilitating pups are significantly less stressed when they have a companion patient. Fortunately, he was able to be retrieved by the boat right away.
By the end of the day, WQ22 and WQ08, the male pup, were safely settled aboard the Sette, determined to be medically stable by the veterinary team, and prepared for the 5 days of transport that lay between them and Ke Kai Ola. The veterinary and scientific staff gave the pups physical exams, sampled their blood for basic laboratory tests, gave them fluids and fish “smoothies” 2–3 times a day, and monitored them around the clock. On the afternoon of May 24, the ship reached Kailua-Kona and the pups were no doubt very happy to be able to go for a swim in their new temporary home at Ke Kai Ola. When they’re ready to be released, hopefully later this year, the ship and team will be ready to return them to Kamole!
We’re happy to announce that Hawaiian monk seal RL72 was released on April 21, 2022, after undergoing surgery to remove an ingested fishing hook. Read about his road to recovery
RL72 spent the past 2 weeks recovering under watchful eyes at The Marine Mammal Center’s Hawaiian monk seal hospital and visitor center on Hawai‘i Island, Ke Kai Ola. Veterinarians with the Center and NOAA Fisheries evaluated RL72’s condition and determined the seal was ready for release.
“Our team is thrilled to have returned RL72 to his ocean home after a full recovery from a challenging surgery,” said Dr. Sophie Whoriskey, the Center’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation veterinarian. “Ingested fishing hooks can have potentially life-threatening implications.”
She added that once RL72 was released on the beach, the seal headed straight for the water and swam off.
We and our partners at the Center will continue to monitor RL72’s health and activities with the help of a temporary satellite tag and bleach mark the seal received before release. RL72 has been seen on Maui and Hawai‘i Island in the past. The satellite tag will help us track where the seal goes next.
To help us monitor RL72 and other endangered Hawaiian monk seals, report sightings to our NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline: (888) 256-9840. RL72 can be identified by rear flipper tags labeled “L72” and “L73,” or by the letters “HI” temporarily bleached on his left side.
We’re excited to confirm that two new Hawaiian monk seal pups were born on Oʻahu last week!
RH92 gave birth to her first-ever pup on the North Shore of Oʻahu. She was first observed with her pup, PO4, on April 13, by our partners Hawaii Marine Animal Response (HMAR). Mother and pup both appear to be healthy and doing well. RH92 was a North Shore pup herself—but she was born on the North Shore of Kauaʻi! In 2016, as a recently weaned pup, RH92 survived an off-leash dog attack. We provided supportive care, administering antibiotics to treat the seal’s puncture wounds, and RH92 made a full recovery. In 2018, she was first sighted on Oʻahu. In 2019, NOAA Fisheries and partners intervened when she swallowed a fishing hook, and were able to successfully remove it from her stomach. After all of these challenges early in life, we’re so happy to see RH92 with her first pup.
Next up is veteran mother RN58 (Luana). On April 14, our partners at the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) observed RN58 had given birth to a pup, PO5, also on Oʻahu’s North Shore. Like RH92, RN58 faced challenges early in life. RN58 was born on Oʻahu’s North Shore in 2013. In 2014, she, too, ingested a fishing hook. With intervention from NOAA Fisheries, she went through a successful surgery to have the hook removed.
Both pups PO4 and PO5 are currently observed to be healthy and doing well. We, HMAR, and DLNR will continue to actively monitor these mother-pup pairs through the 5 to 7 week pup rearing and weaning period. This is a critical time for these mothers and pups to maintain their bond and ensure healthy development of these new additions to the endangered Hawaiian monk seal population.
Unfortunately, not all pups survive. Sadly, earlier this year, three newborn pups were found deceased on Oʻahu in February and March. In situations where several deceased pups are found within a relatively short time frame, we work to determine whether there is any connection between the deaths. Fortunately, we have not found a link between their deaths, or any indication of a larger issue such as a disease outbreak. Instead, our findings indicate the pups most likely died from coincidental birthing complications.
These three pups were assigned the identification codes RQQ1, RQQ2, and RQQ3. RQQ1 and RQQ2 were born to first-time mothers RJ58 (Kaimana) and RH48 (Lei Ola), respectively. Post-mortem examinations and tissue analysis showed the newborns likely died from dystocia and hypoxia. Dystocia means difficulty giving birth, which can be common for first time mothers of many species, including Hawaiian monk seals. It can cause hypoxia, or insufficient oxygen levels, in the pup, leading to the pup’s death in the birth canal or shortly after birth. RQQ1 also had pulmonary edema, or excess fluid in the lungs.
We do not have confirmation on the mother of RQQ3, though we received reports that an adult female, likely RF34 (Pua), was present near this pup when it was observed deceased. A post-mortem exam indicated that RQQ3 was also likely a newborn pup, and preliminary results did not show a clear cause of death. Further analysis is ongoing, and we will provide updates as they become available.
We ask that you please give Hawaiian monk seal mothers and pups plenty of space—at least 150 feet—and avoid disturbing them. This will ensure the mother remains with her pup and the pup gets the nutrition it needs to develop properly. The public should also be aware that mother seals can be very protective of their young and are more likely to exhibit territorial behavior with a pup. For their safety and yours, please stay behind any fencing or signs and listen carefully to the instructions of our or partner personnel on site. And if you’re on the beach with a dog, please keep the dog leashed for its safety, as well as the seals’.
We appreciate all reports of Hawaiian monk seal sightings. If you see a monk seal, call the NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline: (888) 256-9840. Public reports of sightings help us track the seals’ health and progress!
Thanks to quick responses by NOAA Fisheries, our partners, volunteers, and the public, the hooked juvenile male monk seal RL72 is now hook-free. He is safely rehabilitating at The Marine Mammal Center’s Hawaiian monk seal hospital and visitor center on Hawaiʻi Island, Ke Kai Ola.
Members of the public first caught sight of RL72 on Maui’s Kapalua Oneloa Beach the morning of March 30. He had approximately 3–4 feet of monofilament line trailing from his mouth, suggesting he ingested a hook. The public reported the incident to the NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline and provided photos from a camera zoom lens, which clearly showed both the fishing line and the seal’s flipper identification tag.
Maui staff from NOAA Fisheries and State of Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) initiated an on-the-ground response.
Ingesting a hook can be life threatening for a seal, and prompt removal is critical to survival. So NOAA Fisheries, DLNR, The Marine Mammal Center, and the U.S. Coast Guard prepared to provide veterinary and logistical support to capture RL72 from the Maui beach and provide him life-saving medical care at Ke Kai Ola.
Rescuing RL72 was no simple matter. The vehicle parking area was far from the seal and up a hill. Rather than try to carry the 400-pound load (RL72 in a transportation cage) across sand, the team decided the boardwalk route was the best option—though this option still required a trek uphill via a short, narrow trail.
The difficulties didn’t end there. The last leg of the route was a staircase that was simply too narrow to fit the seal’s cage and its haulers. Thankfully, the team found a nearby property owner willing to provide an alternate route through a locked easement near the stairs.
Troubleshooting these logistical challenges took the better part of the day. As evening started closing in, the team put their meticulous plan in action. They would capture RL72, carry him to the vehicle, and drive him to the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources facility. NOAA Fisheries staff stayed with the seal overnight, checking in on him every hour to make sure he was OK.
The next day, NOAA Fisheries and partners boarded RL72 on a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 plane, and the seal flew from Maui to Ke Kai Ola on Hawaiʻi Island.
“The successful effort to dehook RL72 was quite complex and required surgery under anesthesia to remove the hook from the animal’s esophagus,” said Dr. Sophie Whoriskey, the Center’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation veterinarian. “This was an incredible team effort to help give this suffering monk seal a second chance at life and is a testament to the ongoing partnerships to help save this endangered species.”
After the surgery on April 7, the Center’s veterinary experts reported that RL72 was stable, comfortable, and alert. The team noted RL72 is in great body condition and plans to give the seal antibiotics, fluids, and pain medications as he recovers post-surgery. In addition, analysis from a series of blood samples taken during the initial care process showed no signs of illness or disease. No estimated timetable for release has been determined. The seal will be assessed regularly to determine when his recovery from the surgery is complete and release is appropriate.
Since 2014, the Center has rehabilitated and released 37 monk seals, most of which have been rescued from and returned to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as part of the Center’s partnership with NOAA Fisheries The center uses resources in the area to identify seals in need, rescue and rehabilitate them, and give them a chance to return to their ocean home.
Approximately 30 percent of Hawaiian monk seals that are alive today are due to conservation efforts led by NOAA Fisheries and partners. And this happy ending would not have been possible without our partners, as well as the public’s prompt reporting.
This story is also a reminder to report any seal—even those that do not appear to need help—to the statewide NOAA Marine Hotline at (888) 256-9840. Additionally, we recommend these best practices to reduce injuries to monk seals when fishing.
The peak season for Hawaiian monk seal pupping is approaching! Although monk seal pups can be born any time throughout the year, most births occur during spring and summer. After giving birth, mother monk seals will nurse their pups for 5 to 7 weeks. During this time, nursing moms can be very protective and may react aggressively to anyone who gets too close. For your safety and the safety of mom and pup, please give the seals plenty of space to nurse and rest. If you see temporary fences and signs erected around mom and pup, we ask that you safely observe them behind the pupping zone. When the seals are outside the zone, please keep at least 150 feet away, especially when they are in the water.
Once weaned, mother seals abruptly leave their pups. The pups then fend for themselves and learn to forage on their own. It is important that pups are not conditioned to human interaction during this time. Feeding a pup could cause the seal to associate humans with food, which will eventually make it aggressive toward people. While a pup may seem cute and chunky in the beginning, it could accidentally injure people it seeks out when it is older, bigger, and more powerful. In addition, encouraging interactive behavior with pups causes them to lose their wild tendencies and makes it difficult for them to survive in the wild.
Hawaiian monk seals are an endangered species, with only about 1,400 left in the wild. You can help their numbers grow by keeping your distance and observing from afar. Please report any seal sightings or human-seal interactions to NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Wildlife Hotline at (888) 256-9840.
Thanks to the many partners and community members who assisted, the hooked juvenile male seal is back in the waters where he belongs!
The seal returned to Oʻahu from Hawaiʻi Island on February 2, 2022, aboard a U.S. Coast Guard C-130. He was treated for an ingested fishing hook at Ke Kai Ola, The Marine Mammal Center’s (the Center) Hawaiian monk seal hospital and visitor center in Kailua-Kona. We released him with assistance from Hawaii Marine Animal Response (HMAR). We also gave the seal a set of flipper tags which will be his lifetime permanent identification (R7AF) and help us monitor him throughout his life.
The veterinary team at the Center removed a large barbed hook attached to 9 inches of wire leader and a “pigtail” swivel. A community member spotted the swivel protruding from R7AF’s mouth and reported it to NOAA Fisheries, enabling us to mount a response.
NOAA Fisheries and HMAR will monitor R7AF for the next several weeks. The public can contribute to monk seal monitoring by reporting sightings of R7AF, and any Hawaiian monk seal, to the statewide NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline: 1-888-256-9840. R7AF can be identified by his flipper tags, or by the temporary bleach mark “N2” applied to the fur on his back. Remember to follow Hawaiʻi marine wildlife viewing guidelines for the seals’ protection and your safety.
We are grateful to community members who report monk seal sightings, and to our response partners—the Center, U.S. Coast Guard, HMAR, and Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources for helping us recover this “Species in the Spotlight.”
We also recommend these best practices to reduce injuries to monk seals when fishing.
NOAA Fisheries, with support from response partner Hawaii Marine Animal Response (HMAR), successfully captured a hooked juvenile male monk seal (with temporary bleach mark “N2”) at Hanauma Bay on January 27, 2022. The seal, which had no flipper tags, is currently awaiting transport on a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 to Kailua-Kona for treatment at The Marine Mammal Center’s Hawaiian monk seal hospital and visitor center, Ke Kai Ola.
The seal was first observed on the Ka Iwi Coastline of O’ahu on January 22, 2022. He had a wire fishing leader and a large swivel protruding from his mouth, indicating he had likely ingested a hook on the other end of the leader. NOAA Fisheries staff responded to evaluate the seal’s condition, but it was not possible to attempt to remove the gear at the time due to logistical constraints. The seal was alert and appeared to be in good body condition, so we applied the bleach mark to the fur on the seal's back to make monitoring him easier.
For the next several days, members of the public and HMAR searched for N2. Meanwhile NOAA Fisheries, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, The Marine Mammal Center, and the U.S. Coast Guard prepared to provide veterinary and logistical support to treat this seal for potentially life threatening hook ingestion. He was spotted on Rabbit Island on January 24, 2022, but was in an area where it was not feasible or safe to mount a capture response. This changed when he hauled out at Hanauma Bay on January 27, 2022.
Anyone who sees an injured or entangled seal should report it to the statewide NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline: 1-888-256-9840. Additionally, NOAA recommends these best practices to reduce injuries to monk seals when fishing.