East Hawaii News

NWHI Monk Seal Pup Count, Survival Rates Up in 2015

October 9, 2015, 10:50 AM HST
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Monk Seal populations were the focus of a several-month study in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands conducted by a team of National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration scientists. The team monitored the monk seal population, tallied births, and intervened with sick and injured animals.

In 2015, a total of 148 pups were born in the NWHI, a 22 percent increase from the number in 2014.

Poor juvenile survival is among the main drivers that has declined the monk seal population, but high survival rates in 2015 leaves NOAA scientists hopeful.

French Frigate Shoals is one of the locations in the NWHI that has experienced one of the largest population declines over the past two decades. This year, however, 75 percent of the seals that weaned in 2014 survived. First-year survival rates are at its highest since 1989.

NOAA field scientists have also noted a significant finding at the opposite end of the NWHI chain. Pups who weaned in 2014 at the Kure Atoll had a 100 percent survival rate in the area. The site was previously known to have a poor juvenile survival rate and it has been over 25 years since 100 percent of weaned pups were re-sighted a year later.

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Scientists believe that the next year or two should be “great” for young monk seals in the NWHI, partially due to El Nino. El Nino provides negative consequences on weather patterns and wildlife in many parts of the world, but the conditions appear to be beneficial to the survival of young seals, according to NOAA.

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An ocean front, Transition Zone Chlorophyll, is another weather system beneficial to young monk seal survival. The TZCF injects mass productivity into the system, allowing for an influx in food for juvenile seals.

In addition to the work conducted in the NWHI to increase the survival of monk seals, 49 life-saving interventions took place. Interventions ranged from assisting seals that were entangled, pups that had been separated from their mothers, and providing basic medical care to injured seals.

Two pups, Pearl and Hermes, were rehabilitated and released back to the wild at their original atoll in the NWHI. The pair underwent rehabilitation at The Marine Mammal Center monk seal hospital Ke Kai Ola since June.

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Along with Pearl and Hermes, six female seals were collected from the NWHI to be rehabilitated at the hospital. A seventh pup was brought in from Ni’ihau. The seven patients are being treated for malnutrition and both hospital officials and NOAA hope that they be released back into the wild in a few months.

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