The Hawaiian Monk Seal A.R.C cruise has reached the farthest northern reaches of the Hawaiian Archipelago, and begun our journey home, picking up personnel and gear at five camps along the way. Today we pulled our first field camp at Kure Atoll.
This year Kure was home to just one Hawaiian monk seal field biologist, Maureen Duffy, but don’t worry, she had plenty of company with staff and volunteers of the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Kure Atoll Field Station.
Surveying seals solo is no problem – one stealthy biologist can sneak up to identify all the seals on a small island in a day. But hands-on activities like giving a seal flipper tags are a different story. The DLNR crew were excited to help with seal work and even developed a rotation to be sure everyone got some experience. When a pup weaned, Maureen would radio the DLNR crew, and two of them come to help restrain the seal so that Maureen could attach its flipper tags for identification.
Partnership between the one-person monk seal camp and DLNR field station camp had other benefits too – like group efforts to remove large marine debris from beaches, shark watch for safe bathing, or even baklava and celebrations after hard work.
The whole Kure Island population came together during the last weeks of camp to look out for one prematurely weaned seal pup. She had been noted as underweight and lethargic when she weaned, so all in camp were hoping she would be a good candidate for rehabilitative care. But tensions rose and spirits drooped as she went unseen for two weeks before the end of the monk seal camp season and the arrival of NOAA ship Oscar Elton Sette. The Sette would be this young seals only chance of making it to the Ke Kai Ola monk seal hospital and receive a new lease on life. Then, 2 days before the ship arrived to pack up camp, she was found! The entire team was relieved and pitched in to carry the young seal to a pen to await transport, and take turns standing watch until she was picked up.
Since she was captured on the day of the Perseids meteor shower, they voted to name the seal Leleaka, Hawaiian for Milky Way.
All monk seal work was conducted under NOAA ESA/MMPA permits 16632-01 and/or 18786.