Hawaiian Monk Seal Updates
Get the latest monk seal updates from NOAA Fisheries in the Pacific Islands.
Research Efforts for Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery in Progress!
January 17, 2024
Have you ever seen a seal from a safe distance and noticed a strange-looking device or instrument on its upper back? These devices, known as telemetry tools, help NOAA in the research, conservation, and recovery of the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Telemetry tools bolster the study of monk seals' habitat use, foraging behaviors, travel distances, and underwater life in general.
NOAA is partnering with University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Ph.D. student Kirby Parnell to gather acoustic data from these seals, like their underwater vocalizations, soundscapes, and responses to man-made sounds. Over the upcoming months, you may see NOAA staff interacting with one or two Hawaiian monk seals on Oʻahu to place temporary telemetry devices on them. These instruments include a video camera, satellite tag, depth sensor, accelerometer (a device that measures how fast something is speeding up or slowing down), and a hydrophone to collect underwater sounds. In short, these instruments provide a “bird’s eye view” of seal behavior while they’re at sea!
Team members will sample seals to track population health, including Toxoplasma gondii. This research will support conservation and management priorities, such as ongoing health monitoring, foraging, and habitat use research.
Are These Instrument Tools Permanent?
No, instruments placed on the seals are temporary. The video camera and hydrophone component will only be on the seals for a short period—approximately 3 to 5 days. NOAA staff will retrieve the instruments so they can access the information collected. The small satellite tag will remain on the seal collecting location data for approximately 3 to 4 months until it falls off on its own, usually when the seal molts.
How Does NOAA Retrieve the Telemetry Tools From the Seals?
The instrument packages include satellite and VHF (radio frequency) components that allow NOAA scientists to track the seals’ movements and general location. Researchers will review that data to identify a sandy seal hauling location where teams can safely and quickly remove the instruments.
How Can You Help?
Report Hawaiian monk seal sightings to the NOAA Fisheries Marine Wildlife Hotline: (888) 256-9840! If that seal happens to have a telemetry device on their back, you could be helping this important research effort!
Home For The Holidays
November 21, 2023
When Kauaʻi monk seal volunteers and community members observed RH38 acting abnormally lethargic in June 2023, they immediately notified NOAA and the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources. After a week of careful observation, a team involving NOAA, DLNR, and community volunteers rescued the 7-year-old female Hawaiian monk seal and transported her to The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola Hawaiian monk seal hospital on Hawaiʻi Island. The Center’s team provided RH38 with supportive care and conducted diagnostic testing to determine the cause of her continued lethargic behavior.
The Center’s team initially identified that RH38 was suffering from kidney stones and possibly pneumonia. But as treatment continued, RH38’s behavior didn’t fully improve. It was clear something else was still wrong.
Thanks to the support of Kona Community Hospital, RH38 received a CT scan that identified the major cause of her lethargy—a large fractured canine tooth that became infected!
With this diagnosis in hand, RH38 prepared for her visit to the dentist while we wondered: do seals dislike dentist visits as much as some people do? Whatever the case, the Center was able to successfully remove RH38’s fractured tooth and treat the infection. This care, along with treatment for her other issues, helped RH38 steadily improve to the point she was medically cleared for release in November.
But as we carefully planned for RH38’s release with the Center and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), the seal started displaying stress-related behaviors, including biting at her tail. While any wild animal in rehabilitation or captivity can start showing stress-related behaviors, the Center takes such excellent care of monk seal patients that we rarely see these behaviors pop up. Our priority shifted to coordinating a quicker release. Thankfully, the USCG rose to the challenge and was able to transport RH38 home to Kauaʻi just a few days later.
On Kauaʻi, the team of NOAA, DLNR, volunteer, and community members welcomed and released RH38 back into her ocean home. She has since been swimming and traveling around Kauaʻi like a normal, healthy seal!
Hawaiian monk seal pup RS48 (Hoʻomau Lehua) found dead on North Shore of Oʻahu
July 20, 2023
Dog Attack is Likely Cause of Death for Hawaiian Monk Seal Pup RS48 (Hoʻomau Lehua)
Based on necropsy and histopathology results, we have determined that RS48 (Hoʻomau Lehua) likely died from a dog attack. We can confirm that puncture wounds found around her head and flippers occurred prior to death and were consistent in size with bites from a dog. Hemorrhaging found in her body was also consistent with shaking from a dog attack.
There was no evidence found of underlying disease, including toxoplasmosis. Hoʻomau Lehua was last observed on June 6, swimming offshore in the same general area where she was found dead on June 12.
Off-leash dogs have killed numerous native wildlife in Hawaiʻi, including nēnē (Hawaiian geese), Laysan albatross, shearwaters, petrels, shorebirds, and at least two confirmed monk seals (a pup on Kauaʻi in 2014 and Hoʻomau Lehua in 2023). They have also injured several other seals, including one seal that needed special treatment at The Marine Mammal Center’s Hawaiian monk seal hospital, Ke Kai Ola. Even if a dog attack is not immediately fatal, the resulting injuries are likely to become infected and may lead to later death. Dogs can also potentially transmit diseases to monk seals, such as canine distemper. Once infected, an individual seal could spread disease throughout the endangered Hawaiian monk seal population.
We strongly encourage pet owners statewide to protect Hawaiian monk seals and other native wildlife by adhering to leash laws. Even well-trained dogs can be hard to control when they see a monk seal!
Safety is key, and we want to prevent harm to all involved. A curious or playful dog encounter could end badly if a monk seal, which can weigh upwards of 600 pounds and has large canine teeth, feels threatened. We encourage dog owners to seek alternative locations for allowing your dog off leash that are safe for your pet and Hawaiʻi wildlife.
Help protect the state’s vulnerable wildlife from off-leash pets. If you see or suspect a natural resource violation, call 808-643-DLNR, or use the free DLNRTip app. And report all monk seal sightings to the statewide NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline at (888) 256-9840.
June 14, 2023
NOAA veterinary staff conducted an animal autopsy, or necropsy, on RS48 on June 13. Our findings will take time as we conduct further laboratory analysis in hopes of identifying a probable cause of death. However, we can confirm that we have found no sign of blunt force trauma, which was the cause of death of RQ76 (Malama).
June 13, 2023
We are saddened to report the death of RS48 (Hoʻomau Lehua), a young female monk seal.
RS48 was born on February 23, 2023, to mother RH48 (Lei Ola). She was found dead June 12, 2023, on the North Shore of Oʻahu. The cause of RS48’s death is currently unknown.
As is standard practice, law enforcement—in this case, NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement—responded to the report of the dead seal. Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response collected RS48 and brought her to NOAA’s facility on Ford Island.
NOAA Fisheries is conducting a post-mortem examination to determine the cause of death and will provide updates as available.
If you have any information regarding the death of this seal, please contact NOAA’s Enforcement hotline at (800) 853-1964.
Please report all monk seal sightings, injuries, and strandings to our statewide NOAA Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline: (888) 256-9840.
RH38 Undergoing Care and Diagnostic Tests at Monk Seal Hospital
July 13, 2023
RH38, a 7-year-old female Hawaiian monk seal, is currently in care at The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola Hawaiian monk seal hospital on Hawaiʻi Island. She was discovered logging—floating almost motionless in the water—near Fuji Beach in Kapaʻa, Kauaʻi. While seals log sometimes just to rest, the behavior can also be a sign of injury or illness. RH38 is undergoing extensive-yet-gentle diagnostic testing to determine the cause of her behavior.
Answering the Call
When an unknown seal was recently spotted logging on Kauaʻi, a concerned community member called our NOAA statewide marine wildlife hotline. Our Kauaʻi NOAA and Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) team responded and identified the seal as RH38.
The seal’s identity is particularly important to know because RH38 has a history of medical issues, including:
- Severe traumatic myositis (muscle inflammation)
- Septicemic infection (blood poisoning)
- Kidney stones in both kidneys
- Urinary tract infection
- Presumed pneumonia
She was rehabilitated for these conditions at Ke Kai Ola, though it’s possible some of these health issues could have long-term impacts or recurrence over time.
A joint NOAA, DLNR, and volunteer team monitored RH38 for just over a week to see if her behavior was cause for concern. Sometimes seals don’t clearly show signs that they’re sick or healthy—so we need to get more information. When RH38 continued to log and show some weak movement on land, we determined that rescue and an in-depth assessment at Ke Kai Ola was in her best interest, especially considering her medical history.
On the morning of June 24, a NOAA, DLNR, and volunteer team convened in Kapaʻa to search for RH38. After combing numerous beaches in the area, we thought we might be out of luck that day for a rescue. But a community member reported a sighting, and the team was able to successfully rescue her! They cared for RH38 overnight, and the U.S. Coast Guard transported her in the morning to Kailua-Kona, Hawaiʻi Island, for care at Ke Kai Ola.
The community’s timely reports were critical to RH38’s rescue. You can help us monitor Hawaiian monk seals by reporting all monk seal sightings to our statewide NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline: (888) 256-9840. To help keep these endangered seals safe, please keep a distance of at least 50 feet from seals both on land and in the water, and keep pets on a leash around seals.
Healthy and Returning Home
June 13, 2023
On May 15, NOAA researchers boarded the M/V Kahana II (charter vessel) to the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument for a summer of monitoring Hawaiian green sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals. Additionally, two juvenile female seals were boarded on the charter vessel for release to their home at Lalo (French Frigate Shoals).
Four field researchers from the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program will be monitoring the subpopulation on Lalo and providing life-saving interventions for animals at risk over the summer. While the Hawaiian monk seal population hit a new milestone with 10 consecutive years of slow but steady growth, there are still many threats to the survival of the species. Seals at Lalo make up 20 percent of the population in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. They face several unique challenges including rapid habitat loss from sea level rise, shark predation on weaned pups, and entrapment in decaying Tern Island infrastructure leftover from human activities since the 1930s. The researchers deploying to Lalo will be onsite to tag this year’s cohort of new pups, survey the seal population, and address these survival threats.
Rescued by NOAA due to malnutrition in August 2022, two seals, QQ22 (“Makoa”) and QQ26 (“Ululani”), are now approaching one year of age. The two juvenile female seals were rehabilitated over the past year at The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola facility on Hawai‘i Island. The Marine Mammal Center’s expert animal care team provided for the developmental, nutritional, and medical needs of these seals, so that they can grow up to give birth to pups of their own someday. The partnership between NOAA and The Marine Mammal Center is critical to the survival of seals like Makoa and Ululani. Thank you to the U.S. Coast Guard for their support in air transport between O‘ahu and Hawai‘i Island for these two seals.
Reward Offered for Suspected Intentional Killing of RQ76 (Malama)
June 6, 2023
It is with great sadness that we report the suspected intentional killing of Hawaiian monk seal RQ76, also known as Malama. Malama was a seal close to many of our hearts. Last year, we rescued her on Oʻahu because she was significantly malnourished after weaning and unlikely to survive. We transferred her aboard a U.S. Coast Guard aircraft to The Marine Mammal Center’s Hawaiian monk seal hospital, Ke Kai Ola, on Hawai‘i Island. The Center’s team provided months of dedicated care to rehabilitate her, getting her back up to a healthy weight. After successful rehabilitation, she was released back on Oʻahu in January 2023. After release, she was observed regularly in good body condition and exhibiting normal seal behavior.
Tragically, our partner Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response received a public report of a deceased seal on March 12, 2023, and it was Malama. She was found at ʻŌhikilolo, between Keaʻau Beach Park and Mākua Valley, on Oʻahu. HMAR and the Hawai‘i Dept. of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement responded. HMAR transferred the seal to NOAA for post-mortem investigation.
Our findings showed the cause of death to be blunt force trauma. Given this extremely serious finding, we consulted with national experts in marine mammal radiology and forensics to better isolate the likely cause of the blunt force trauma. After analysis by multiple experts, the weight of expertise points to that being caused by intentional killing.
Malama’s death hits us and our community particularly hard—especially given all the support, care, and monitoring provided to her by our NOAA team, The Center, HMAR, U.S. Coast Guard, and members of the Oʻahu community.
NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement is offering a potential reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to the successful prosecution of those responsible. Anyone with information should contact NOAA’s Enforcement Hotline: (800) 853-1964.
To report a stranded marine mammal, or any monk seal sighting, call our Marine Wildlife Hotline at (888) 256-9840.
Waikīkī Pup Pualani Safely Released at New Home
May 30, 2023
NOAA Fisheries and partners have relocated the female Hawaiian monk seal pup Pualani from busy Kaimana Beach, Waikīkī, to a more remote Oʻahu shoreline.
Kaiwi weaned Pualani on May 26, after nursing and caring for Pualani around the clock since the pup was born on April 14, 2023.
The new location will allow Pualani to grow up wild and in the company of other monk seals, which she can play with and learn from.
We carefully collected Pualani 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, the evening of May 29.
We transported Pualani to our NOAA facilities for an overnight stay in a large enclosure built for monk seals. And the next morning, May 30, we applied flipper tags and a temporary satellite tag to Pualani so we can monitor her at the more remote location. Pualani was assigned RS36 as her permanent NOAA Fisheries ID. She also received a vaccination to protect her from morbillivirus, or phocine distemper, infection in the future. When Pualani and the team were ready, they headed out for the last leg of her journey to a quieter, less populated beach.
NOAA, Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response (HMAR), and DLNR staff and volunteers combined efforts to jointly release the pup. Pualani immediately headed for the water and began exploring the area.
We will track her movement patterns for several weeks to months using the satellite tag she carries. The Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources and our non-profit partner HMAR will also help monitor the pup. Together we’ll provide updates to the community, through our various media channels, on how the pup is settling in.
We want to extend a big mahalo to DLNR, HMAR, 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 extend a very special mahalo to the local community for supporting and respecting these truly amazing and lovable seals.
Like all young Hawaiian monk seals, Pualani will still face challenges as she grows. Hawaiian monk seals face threats such as entanglement or ingestion of fishing gear, dogs roaming off leash, intentional harm, and disease, like toxoplasmosis.
You can help by giving every monk seal you see plenty of space, keeping dogs leashed around seals, adopting best practices when fishing around seals, and reporting seal sightings to our hotline: (888) 256-9840.
Preparing for Pup Pualani’s Future
May 24, 2023
The last five weeks have been exciting as we watched Hawaiian monk seal RK96 (Kaiwi) give birth to her fifth pup (Pualani) in the public spotlight of Waikīkī. We’re so thankful to the incredible community and our valued partners for helping create a safe nursery for the pair. RK96 has been an amazing mom, and soon it will be time for her to focus on herself.
Monk seal mothers typically nurse their pups for about 5–7 weeks before abruptly leaving, so it’s likely RK96 will wean Pualani in the near future. While only RK96 knows when that will happen, we and partners have been finalizing plans on how best to support Pualani once she's on her own.
NOAA Fisheries conducted an extensive risk assessment and decided to relocate Pualani from Kaimana Beach, Waikīkī, to a more remote Oʻahu shoreline after we’ve confirmed she is weaned. We believe this move is best for Pualani. It will allow her to grow up wild and in the company of other wild monk seals, rather than in the throngs of beachgoers in Waikīkī.
Weaning: What to Expect
If you see Pualani without her mother, don’t be alarmed, it’s likely due to weaning! During the nursing period, a mother monk seal will not leave to forage for food. Instead, she will stay with her pup and fast until she has used up her energy reserves. At this point, the mother will abruptly wean the pup.The pup then becomes an independent seal and must learn how to survive on its own. Even if RK96 subsequently returns to Kaimana Beach, once weaning has occurred, both seals are now independent.
Newly independent pups will continue to learn about the world around them. Pualani will be extremely curious and impressionable; she could easily be conditioned to interact with people in the water. We plan to relocate Pualani soon after weaning to prevent this from happening.
Trained and experienced NOAA staff will collect Pualani for relocation. The exact approach will depend on the circumstances that day and Pualani’s whereabouts. For example, we may use boards with handles to safely encourage Pualani to move in the direction of a transport cage or large dog kennel. Or we may use a net specifically made for scooping up and carrying juvenile seals (called a “stretcher net”). A stretcher net is a piece of netting strung between two poles and looks a lot like a hammock. We do not routinely administer tranquilizers for transport, so we expect Pualani to wiggle and vocalize. These behaviors are useful indicators of her alertness, health, and strength, and a veterinarian will be onsite to monitor her well-being. Our goal is to ensure that Pualani is collected and transported in a safe manner, so that she is back in the wild without skipping a beat.
Assessing the Best Beach for a Growing Seal
Each time we identify a seal that may need potential intervention, we conduct a careful and thorough risk assessment. For Pualani, we assessed what would be best for her after weaning—when she is on her own beginning the next stage in her development.
Our risk assessment compared the dangers and benefits of two options: 1) leaving her in place at Kaimana Beach, and 2) relocating her to the best alternate location.
Habituation is one of our most concerning issues with leaving Pualani in a year-round busy environment like Kaimana Beach. A young seal that receives positive interactions from people— such as attention, play, or being fed—will continue to seek out humans for these interactions. Once the seal grows and matures, that becomes a human safety risk. The seal may eventually:
- Rely on people for interactions rather than other seals in the wild
- Not learn to avoid marine hazards
- Fail to develop skills necessary to find food, potentially becoming reliant on people for food or aggressive toward people if it doesn’t receive food from them
In assessing the option of relocating Pualani, we recognized that all beaches on O‘ahu present some level of risk. Compared to Waikīkī, the risk associated with habituation is much lower at a more remote beach.
Young Hawaiian monk seals face threats to their survival regardless of where they grow up on Oʻahu. These threats include entanglement or ingestion of fishing gear, dogs roaming off leash, intentional harm, and disease, like toxoplasmosis. We did our best to carefully assess known risks and challenges as we considered the best place for Pualani at this time.
Pualani’s new beach, which will remain undisclosed for her safety, also offers a higher potential for interactions with other seals. This includes juvenile seals she can play with and learn from, which is important for her development.
It takes a community of support to help Pualani and other young monk seals grow up successfully. You can help by giving every monk seal you see plenty of space, keeping dogs leashed around seals, adopting best practices when fishing around seals, and reporting seal sightings to our hotline: (888) 256-9840.
A Community Effort to Rescue Hawaiian Monk Seal RL68
May 3, 2023
When it comes to endangered monk seals in the main Hawaiian Islands, one thing we always emphasize (besides keeping your distance) is to call us to report sightings. We rely on your calls and the support of partners to help monitor these seals and identify any concerns.
Recently, a Molokaʻi resident did just that. Thanks to her call—and the help of partners and volunteers on Molokaʻi—an ailing seal is now receiving some much-needed medical care.
On April 10, the community member alerted us that RL68, a 4-year old female seal, had been losing a significant amount of weight. She had also become progressively less energetic over the past several weeks.
The news was concerning. When it comes to population recovery, the life of every Hawaiian monk seal is important. Female seals are especially important because they grow the population with every successful pup they birth.
We worked with the community member and our partner Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response (HMAR) to gather more information. And after careful review of the situation, we decided that medical assessment and treatment were in RL68’s best interest, given her unusually thin body condition and notable behavior change.
A NOAA and HMAR team, with support from the Molokaʻi community, jumped into action. They successfully located and rescued RL68 on April 12.
“RL68 is a well-known seal that frequents west side beaches on Molokaʻi,” said Todd Yamashita, HMAR’s Molokaʻi Community Programs Manager. “But you never really know where a seal is going to be. Imagine our surprise that RL68—the seal we were looking for—was the first seal we spotted the day of the rescue operation!”
“Big thanks to Kaohele, Cara, Molokaʻi Ranch security personnel, my HMAR team on Oʻahu, the NOAA crew for sharing their guidance and knowledge, and the Coast Guard for quick and safe transport of the patient,” he added.
The U.S. Coast Guard was conducting a pre-planned mission on Molokaʻi on April 13—they offered to transport RL68 for emergency care since they would already be in the area. They transported RL68 to the only dedicated monk seal hospital in Hawaiʻi, The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola hospital in Kona.
“Being directly involved with helping one of our Molokaʻi seals—with the help of Molokaʻi HMAR volunteers who know and love these shorelines— is the highlight of this experience,” Yamashita said. “My family and I are praying for good health and a quick return for RL68.”
RL68 received diagnostic testing at Ke Kai Ola, including blood tests and X-rays. Although we’ll have to wait several weeks for her test results, this care will provide her with the best possible chance of recovery. In the meantime, the Center’s animal care experts are currently providing RL78 hearty meals of calorie-rich herring, along with fluids to help boost her nutritional status and hydration. They’re also treating RL68 for gastroenteritis.
Help monk seals like RL68 by reporting seal sightings to the NOAA Fisheries Marine Wildlife Hotline: (888) 256-9840!
It’s official—Waikīkī pup is a female!
April 27, 2023
We’re excited to confirm that RK96’s (Kaiwi) new pup is a female! Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response shared a great photo of the pup’s belly with our Hawaiian monk seal experts, which allowed us to confirm the pup’s sex.
This is 12-year-old RK96’s third female pup. In total, she’s birthed five known pups, two of which have been born on Kaimana Beach.
Mother Monk Seal Births Pup in Waikīkī for the Second Time
April 14, 2023
RK96 (Kaiwi) has given birth to a pup at Kaimana Beach, Oʻahu. Give the pair 150 feet of space as they nurse in the area for the next 5–7 weeks.
Rehabilitated Hawaiian Monk Seals Return to Kuaihelani
April 5, 2023
Three monk seals return to Midway Atoll at Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument after struggling with malnourishment. They now have a second chance at survival.
Famous Waikīkī Pup Gives Birth Outside of the Spotlight
February 23, 2023
North Shore students gift name Uʻi Mea Ola to first Oʻahu monk seal pup of 2023.
RQ76—Released with an Appetite for Survival!
February 3, 2023
Monk seal release days are among our favorite days in the field. It’s a great feeling to see a seal released back to the wild—especially one whose journey involved months in medical care, like our recently released seal RQ76, also known as Malama!
We had the privilege of releasing RQ76 on January 28, after the young seal’s nearly 6-month road to recovery at The Marine Mammal Center’s Hawaiian monk seal hospital, Ke Kai Ola, on Hawaiʻi Island.
When RQ76 was just two months old, NOAA Fisheries, The Marine Mammal Center, and the U.S. Coast Guard launched a rescue effort to get the weaned pup life-saving care.
RQ76 was born on a remote Hawaiʻi state seabird sanctuary, Mānana Island, in June 2022. As the female pup started to grow, a watchful community member reported that she didn’t appear to be gaining enough weight. After careful monitoring and assessment, we and partners intervened to give the pup the best chance of survival.
When RQ76 was admitted to the Center’s Hawaiʻi Island hospital, the pup only weighed 62.7 pounds. But a healthy, newly weaned monk seal pup typically weighs two to three times as much! The Center’s veterinary team began a rehabilitation plan for RQ76, and she slowly began to put on weight. After nearly doubling her weight, NOAA Fisheries and the Center determined RQ76 was healthy and ready for release!
Our partners at the U.S. Coast Guard transported RQ76 from Kona back to Oʻahu aboard a C-130 aircraft, escorted by a veterinarian and the Coast Guard flight team. After landing on Oʻahu, our NOAA team released RQ76 back to her ocean home.
And what did RQ76 do first?
The seal headed directly into the water. She began exploring her surroundings, and within a few minutes, had already caught herself a loli, or sea cucumber! Loli are common prey items for young monk seals, and it was reassuring to see this once-malnourished seal focus on food within moments of being returned to the wild.
Prior to releasing RQ76, we applied a temporary satellite tag and bleach mark to her. These tools allow NOAA Fisheries and our partners to monitor a seal’s health and activities. You can help monitor RQ76 and other endangered Hawaiian monk seals, too!
Report any monk seal sightings to our NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline: (888) 256-9840. RQ76 can be identified by her rear flipper tags labeled “Q76” and “Q77” or by the temporary identifier “N3” that was applied using hair bleach on her left side. When identifying seals, please keep a respectful distance of at least 50 feet. Use binoculars or the zoom on your device to see flipper tag numbers from afar.
RM28 Succumbs to Injuries Consistent with Severe Shark Bites
January 25, 2023
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.