Expedition to Support Hawaiian Monk Seal Population Assessement and Recovery Efforts in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Underway

May 18, 2015
Small boats are used to operate nearshore and to transport people, equipment, and occasionally monk seals from the beach to the 
        Hiʻialakai offshore.
Small boats are used to operate nearshore and to transport people, equipment, and occasionally monk seals from the beach to the Hiʻialakai offshore.

The NOAA Ship Hiʻialakai will sail from Honolulu on May 18, 2015, for a 22-day mission to the northwestern Hawaiian islands (NWHI) to study the endangered Hawaiian monk seal population. The research will support NOAA's efforts to recover the seal population. The expedition is staffed by scientists from the University of Hawaii Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (JIMAR) working in the Protected Species Division and other partners. Jessie Lopez Bohlander will be chief scientist for this project.

Each year, scientists in the PIFSC Monk Seal Research Program monitor the status of monk seals at remote locations in the NWHI and conduct research to better understand factors affecting abundance of the seals and ways to enhance the population's recovery. Researchers work out of seasonal field camps at the six major monk seal breeding locations in the NWHI: French Frigate Shoals, Laysan Island, Lisianski Island, Pearl and Hermes Reef, Midway Atoll, and Kure Atoll. During this summer's support voyage, the Hiʻialakai will deploy researchers and their equipment at French Frigate Shoals, Laysan Island, Lisianski Island, Pearl and Hermes Reef, and Kure Atoll. Opportunistic day surveys will be conducted at Niʻihau Island, Nihoa Island and Necker Island, and Midway Atoll where no camps will be established.

To help establish monk seal field camps, cruise personnel will transport equipment and supplies from the ship to the islands. Provisions sufficient to sustain teams of 2-4 scientists at each location for 4 months are needed. Included are tents, stoves, solar power arrays, computers, small work boats, and more. Everything brought ashore must be transported by hand and shuttled via small boats from the ship to the islands.

While conducting monk seal surveys and related studies, researchers work and live out of tent camps.  Tents and other equipment are 
        initially transported to the beaches from the ship using small boats, then completely removed and returned to the ship at the end of 
        the field season.
While conducting monk seal surveys and related studies, researchers work and live out of tent camps. Tents and other equipment are initially transported to the beaches from the ship using small boats, then completely removed and returned to the ship at the end of the field season.
If interventions are necessary, a stretcher net will be used to safely capture and carry monk seals from shore to small boats and 
        then onto the Hiʻialakai for safe passage to the Ke Kai Ola rehabilitation facility.
If interventions are necessary, a stretcher net will be used to safely capture and carry monk seals from shore to small boats and then onto the Hiʻialakai for safe passage to the Ke Kai Ola rehabilitation facility.

In addition to retrieving field researchers and their equipment, the Hiʻialakai will transport medically compromised seals from sites in the NWHI the Ke Kai Ola facility in Kona, managed by the Marine Mammal Center to rehabilitate Hawaiian monk seals. Scientists will safely capture the seals using stretcher nets and carry them to the ship in small boats. Once aboard the ship, the seals will be kept in cages on the deck. A veterinarian, scientists and shipboard personnel will monitor the health and behavior of the seals regularly during transport to ensure the animals arrive at their destination safely and in good health. Seals will remain at Ke Kai Ola for approximately two months where they will be treated, before being brought back to the NWHI.

 

The operating area of the research expedition spans over 1220 miles from Kure Atoll in the northwest to the island of Niʻihau in the southeast. Red markers on the interactive map above indentify the various islands and atolls where research operations will be conducted (click on a marker to display location name).