A New Remote Camera Seal Monitoring System

April 26, 2013

Through the JIMAR visiting scientist program, Dr. Alexey Altukhov from the Russian Academy of Science and North Pacific Wildlife Consulting (http://www.northpacificwildlife.com/about_us.htm), was hosted by the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program (HMSRP) for a week in February to direct fabrication of two remote camera systems similar to those used to monitor the abundance of Steller sea lions at their remote northern Pacific rookeries. The system components include a digital SLR camera, control box (engineered by Alexey), 12-volt battery, pelican case and a solar panel. Still images can be recorded every 1 to 90 minutes during daylight hours, with enough memory for an entire year between maintenance checks.

Field testing the newly fabricated camera system on Oʻahu.
Field testing the newly fabricated camera system on Oʻahu.

Sean Guerin of the HMSRP is the lead on this special project. The camera systems were successfully field tested on Nimitz Beach, a seal haul out area on Oʻahu along Barber's Point, and are scheduled to be deployed at Nihoa Island, in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, at the end of the summer. Nihoa was selected due to its inaccessibility (landing is often impossible due to sea conditions) and the single sandy beach on the island has one of the highest monk seal haul out densities, up to 40 animals on the 75 meter-long beach. Additionally, as many as 8 pups are born annually at Nihoa and there is evidence of aggressive adult male seal activity (distinctive large dorsal scars and one observed event). Currently, Nihoa is surveyed only a few days per year, and the limited data suggests this population has been increasing. Thus, the Nihoa subpopulation may hold clues to the divergent seal survival trends observed in the Northwestern and main Hawaiian Islands. Check back for updates on this exciting project.

Special thanks to the NMFS Alaska Ecosystem Program who inspired this collaboration. For more information on the great work they are doing visit: http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/nmml/alaska/