Aloha from on board the NOAA Research Vessel Oscar Elton Sette as we undertake our mission to help the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Our cruise, formally known as SE-15-06, is to support our annual Hawaiian Monk Seal Assessment and Recovery Camps, a critical piece in our efforts to understand monk seal ecology and population trends and undertake a variety of actions to help increase monk seal survival.
The field season stretches over the summer and is usually 3-4 months in duration and is bookended on each side with a research cruise. The first is to deploy the camps and the second, the one we are currently embarked on, is to recover our field research teams. Our teams have been deployed at 5 of the 6 main monk seal breeding locations in the NWHI: French Frigate Shoals, Laysan Island, Lisianski Island, Pearl and Hermes Reef, and Kure Atoll. Researchers have spent the summer collecting all the data (animal id’s, births, deaths, and more) to help estimate the population and intervening where they can to help save seals (disentangling, providing medical attention, etc.). These researchers are our first line of attack for monk seal conservation efforts. But as the number of new births dwindle, food stores shrink, and the days grow shorter, it is time for our field teams to come home.
So we find ourselves pushing northwestward through calm seas and clear skies to collect or teammates. But our mission is more than just picking up our colleagues, we are here to save monk seals as well. Over the next 3 weeks we will be undertaking several activities to help monk seal recovery. We are currently transporting 2 seals that have been undergoing rehabilitation at the Ke Kai Ola monk seal hospital in Kona. After several months of fattening up, they are headed back home to the wild. We will also be on the lookout for young seals that could benefit from care at Ke Kai Ola as well (more on that in another blog post). We will be testing unmanned aerial systems (drones to many) to see how they can help us in our efforts to count and assess seals, detect marine debris, and determine the threat of sea level rise to these fragile remove islands. And there is so much more.
Over the next few weeks we will keep you updated on all of the adventures, rescues and new science happening aboard this modern day NOAA’s A.R.C.