Into the NWHI: Stories of the 2013 Hawaiian Monk Seal Field Camps

Get a glimpse into field life in the NWHI through the eyes of conservation scientists who will be living on the islands to conduct monk seal research and recovery efforts until September.

July 5, 2013

by Whitney Taylor, JIMAR Field Camp leader at Laysan 

Part of transiting to remote field camps is stopping at Nihoa and Mokumanamana Islands to survey for seals.  It’s a portion of the population that relatively little is known about because the islands are surveyed usually only twice a year.  Unlike other islands, many seals are untagged at these two sites.  The islands are rocky with little or no beach making surveying for seals very different than the quintessential sandy beaches most of us are used to working on.

Today we surveyed Mokumanamana.  It lies on the Tropic of Cancer.  Like Nihoa, Mokumanamana has significant cultural and biological resources.  Mokumanamana is known for its numerous wahi pana (religious places) and mea makamae (cultural objects).  The island has a heiau (place of worship, shrine) sitting at the top of the island like a crown surrounded by multiple species of seabird.  Seals and turtles occupy the lower-lying ledges. Four technicians were sent ashore to the island.  The team only works along the coast to avoid disturbing any of the fragile sites or terrestrial flora and fauna.  Twenty-two seals were counted on various rock ledges and in tide pools around the island.  Two previously tagged seals, 1-year olds from the year before, were re-sighted.  Two moms were nursing.  One weaned pup was tagged.  The other seals were mostly adults.   Two bleach marks were applied in hopes of being able to re-sight these individuals in future surveys at Mokumanamana or at other islands.  Pictures of each individual were taken to build up the photo-identification database also in hopes of recognizing individuals from year to year.

After the day at Mokumanamana, we are making our way to French Frigate Shoals.  We will be disembarking a field crew and gear for the summer months.  It’s the first field camp of the season to be set up.

For more information about the rich cultural and natural history of Mokumanamana visit: http://www.papahanaumokuakea.gov/visit/moku.html

Mokumanamana

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