When I first saw this monk seal on the North Kohala coast a couple of days ago, I thought it was IO5. He’s the seal I see most often in this part of the island. But as I got closer, I saw this one was a female. I took photos, including some of the red ID tag. I wasn’t sure if, at that distance, I’d be able to read it, but luckily I could make out ‘A2’ in a couple of photos. There was space after the ‘2’ as if a number had rubbed off, so I wondered if this was RA20, the monk seal who raised pups on a Kona beach in 2018 (here and here) and 2019 (here and here).
I sent the photos to the Big Island Hawaiian monk seal response network, which tracks the movements and welfare of the monk seals. They confirmed this was RA20 and was the first sighting of her since she was released from Ke Kai Ola Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital after suffering from a bacterial infection. The hospital’s veterinarians think RA20 recently lost a pregnancy and that the infection may have caused, or resulted from, the loss.
The good news is that she certainly appeared healthy and in good shape when I saw her.
This week’s Sunday Stills challenge theme is ‘Favorite Place.’ See more offerings here.
I could think of several places on the Big Island that would fall into the category of favorite place. Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Palila Forest Discovery Trail, the ocean – all these are places I return to. But the coast at Upolu is where I go for exercise and to enjoy the ever-changing scene there.
This stretch of coast features scenic high cliffs interspersed with lower areas where tide pools nestle among the rocks. Often, there’s a great view of Maui across the ʻAlenuihāhā Channel. In those waters I look for humpback whales, turtles, monk seals, and once, even a passing shark. Up in the air I might see anything from plovers to noddys to great frigatebirds. On land, there’s an assortment of birds, bugs and butterflies to be seen, as well as horses, cattle, and the occasional wild pig.
Sometimes, it’s hot and dry, but usually there’s a decent breeze, occasionally strong enough to make me lean into it while blown dirt sandblasts my legs. Sometimes, I get caught in the rain, but when I do, I’m usually dry again by the time I get back to my truck.
I’ve lived here seven years now and I never tire of going down there and looping around the fenced airstrip, wondering what I’ll see.
This week’s Sunday Stills challenge theme is ‘Oldie-but-Goodie or Favorite Photo.’ (See more responses here.) This seemed like a good opportunity to run a few of my favorite photos from the first year of this blog.
A few weeks back, I posted (here) about a new monk seal pup that had recently been born on the Big Island. I’m happy to report that the mother and pup both continue to do well.
The pup is now about six weeks old and is much closer in size to his mother than he was in the previous post. It’s likely that his mother, RA20, will soon leave him to fend for himself. She has lost a lot of weight and is also looking quite green on her head and flippers, so she will head out to feed and then to molt.
The pup’s sister, Manu’iwa, has been a regular visitor to the area, but the mother is very protective and drives her away. Once the mother leaves, it’s likely that the two siblings will spend some time together in the area. Eventually, the new pup will head out on his own and make his own way.
Manu’iwa has had a very good first year, which is often a very testing time for a new monk seal. Hopefully, the new pup will be equally successful and be another step toward boosting the endangered monk seal population to more sustainable levels.
I’m posting this in response to this week’s Friendly Friday challenge on the theme of ‘Posing.’ (More responses here.) The top photo in particular could easily have the caption, ‘That’s my boy.’
Last February, I posted about a new monk seal pup being born on the island (here and here). I’m happy to report that the pup, Manu’iwa, continues to do well. Now, her mother, RA20, has returned to the same site and given birth to a new pup.
The new pup is just over two weeks old and so far the signs are good. The pup is nursing well and the mother is being very careful around it. When Manu’iwa showed up to see her new sibling, the day after it was born, RA20 quickly put a stop to the meeting. Monk seal mothers are very protective of their pups.
Mother and pup will likely spend about six weeks in the area before RA20 leaves the pup to fend for itself. During that time, she will lose weight while the pup gains and they will be a lot closer in size than they area currently.
These photos were taken in the early afternoon when the pair were resting and not much was going on. Morning is the best time to see them being active.
Monk seals are endangered and only a handful regularly live in the waters around the Big Island. The seal in these photos is one of these and I’m lucky enough to see him on a regular if not always frequent basis. When I do see him, it’s not unusual for him to be submerged in a tide pool as he was on this day.
Sometimes, when there’s been rain, the tide pool will be brown with runoff and all I see is this body with its head submerged. When I first saw this, I wondered if the seal had drowned, but since a monk seal can hold it’s breath for 20 minutes or more I know that’s not what’s going on.
What I like on this occasion, was the little fish (seen above) swimming around the seal’s head and through his whiskers. I like to think it was wondering what the heck this giant lump was that had suddenly taken up most of the space in its pool.
I’m posting this photo in response to this week’s Sunday Stills challenge on the theme of ‘Friend’ (see more responses here), though it would be equally suitable for next week’s ‘Lazy Days.’
Monk seals are solitary animals, the main exception being the six weeks or so a mother spends with her new pup, teaching it the tricks of the trade, before leaving it to fend for itself. But for a three month period in late 2016, these two monk seals spent a lot of time together.
The top seal is I05, a male, affectionately known as Igor. He’s a Big Island seal and appears to spend his time on the Kohala and Kona coast. The other is B00, a female, affectionately known as Boo. She was born in Kauai and had previously been seen on Molokai and Maui, but now appears to spend much of her time on the Kona coast. Whereas not too much had been known about B00, I05 was regularly seen and was a notorious loner. So his ongoing liaison was quite out of character.
They seemed very relaxed and content in each other’s company, and here are resting ashore, as monk seals do, before heading back into the water to feed.
These are older photos, but still interesting to me. I spotted this monk seal one day, not too far from a second seal that is a regular around the Big Island.
The top photo shows some lighter marking on the side of the seal, below and behind the two dark marks. This lighter marking is bleaching, which is applied to seals when possible, to help researchers monitor the population and keep track of their travels. The bleaching only lasts a year as seals molt annually. In addition to the bleaching, most seals have red tags placed in their rear flippers, to help identify them. It can be a hit and miss method as these photos show. This seal has tags in both flippers, but they were never visible to me.
The other interesting thing is those two dark circles on the seal’s back. They’re made by cookiecutter sharks. Cookiecutter sharks are small dogfish sharks, less than two feet in length. They feed by gouging round plugs, hence the name, out of larger creatures such as monk seals.
Cookiecutter sharks live in the deep ocean during the day, sometimes at depths over two miles. At dusk they rise up toward the surface, before descending to the depths again around daybreak. Another reason not to go swimming at night.