As the Oscar Elton Sette continues down the Northwestern Hawaiian Island chain, picking up each of the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program A.R.C. teams, we continue to get impressions from each camp. Campers at Laysan were struck by the commonality of marine debris and the interactions of monk seals with it. You read earlier about our field teams’ efforts to clean up marine debris and the several thousand pounds collected in just a few beach clean ups. Here are some (sadly) everyday images from Laysan that demonstrate what happens to that debris in monk seal habitat.
Seal WH34 rests against a Menehune water bottle. Much of the marine debris that washes ashore on Laysan comes from Asia, but we still see a lot of recognizable local products from the Main Hawaiian Islands. Carelessly lost trash regularly makes the 800 mile journey from the main islands to wash ashore on Laysan Island. (NMFS Photo)
Seal WH10 (Niho’ole) plays with marine debris. Young Monk Seals are naturally curious and inquisitive and can often be seen playing with anything ranging from sea cucumbers, to sticks, to coral rubble and rocks, to marine debris. This curiosity and the constant barrage of ghost nets coming out the Pacific gyre is the reason that monk seals have one of the highest rates of entanglement amongst marine mammals. (NMFS Photo)
Seal GI08 calls to her pup (WH10) on the other side of a massive ghost net that washed ashore. The net found its way to on one of Laysan Island’s primary pupping beaches that had 7 mom and pup pairs at the time. In order to prevent disturbances to the mom and pup pairs, the Laysan team woke up early the next morning and returned to the beach while the seals were asleep in the vegetation. They stealthily removed as much of the net as they could before the seals moved back toward the water. (NMFS Photo)
All monk seal work was conducted under NOAA ESA/MMPA permits 16632-01 and/or 18786.