Members of the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program (HMSRP) completed the first objective during cruise SE13-08 aboard the NOAA R/V Oscar Elton Sette by successfully capturing and loading 6 seals at French Frigate Shoals (FFS), to be released in 2 days at Laysan Island. The seals, all female weaned pups, were being moved away because survival of weaned pups is consistently very low at FFS, with many animals falling prey to Galapagos sharks or subsequently starving. Survival at Laysan Island is much higher. The scientists’ task of capturing these seals was made much easier due to the efforts of NMFS field staff at FFS, who had already located the candidate animals and moved them to a temporary holding pen at Tern Island. The seals selected were the most recently weaned female pups which did not have significant shark-inflicted (or other) injuries.
Prior to being translocated, each seal was subjected to a rigorous health screening by veterinarian Dr. Michelle Barbieri, including blood screening for any abnormalities which might be indicative of a compromised health condition. The animals were also outfitted by Dr. Charles Littnan with a satellite tag, so that their movements can be tracked once they are released at Laysan Island. The animals were then transported to the Sette by small boat and placed in individual cages for the 36hr transit to Laysan. Scientists kept a 24 hr watch on the animals during their stay on the ship.
The translocation project was successfully concluded on September 15th with the transfer and release of all 6 female pups at Laysan Island. Seals were transported in pairs from the Sette via small boat, and each pair was immediately released on shore just north of the monk seal team’s field camp. All pups entered the water almost immediately and began exploring their new environment. The scientific research team remained on Laysan for the duration of the day to tag and sample seals there. During that time the team observed that translocated seals had moved both north and south of camp, to the far ends of the island. The locations of the seals will be tracked via satellite, and their tracks and status will be updated to regularly here on the PIFSC blog and on the HMSRP facebook page.