Outreach with Hawaii' Keiki

August 22, 2014

Bringing the NWHI to the Classroom

Building on the successful outreach program developed last year by Barb Mayer (a US Fish and Wildlife Service volunteer), Barb organized a repeat performance with 4th to 6th grade students at ʻIolani and Punahou Schools' summer programs. A total of 62 students participated in these two sessions which included 2-half days per session. The outreach team included Barb Mayer, members of the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program, and US Fish and Wildlife Service personnel. New this year, was the addition of Hawaiian cultural practitioners from the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM) and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to provide the students the Hawaiian history and cultural context of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). Classroom activities included wildlife monitoring, including tracking albatross chick growth and fledging success and monk seal life history and diet, including sifting a monk seal fecal sample (i.e. chocolate pudding as an alternative) to determine monk seal diet. During the second classroom visit, the class was able to connect with the NOAA Research Ship Hiʻialakai via a video chat (Google Hangout). The Hawaiian cultural practitioners taught the students a Hawaiian chat, oli, to greet the team on the ship and to ask permission to visit with them. The students were then able to ask the Hawaiian monk seal and seabird scientists on-board the NOAA ship Hiʻialakai questions about the wildlife and their careers. The video chat was the highlight of these sessions for both the students and researchers.

Monk Seals in the NOAA Science Camp

A total of 60 eighth grade students participated in the first ever NOAA Science Camp held at the new NOAA Inouye Regional Center on Ford Island, Honolulu. This camp included 2 sessions, each 2 days long, during the last week in June. During the monk seal module, students had an opportunity to learn how monk seal researchers answer real life questions, specifically "What does a monk seal eat?". Immature seals in the NWHI are in much poorer body condition and starving compared to the Main Hawaiian Islands (MHI) seals and differences in diet is believed to be the cause. Are the seals eating different prey in the two places?

Students put their protective gloves on and tried their hands using traditional scat (feces) sifting methods to determine what a seal eats. Fortunately, the students had a cleaner version, with chocolate pudding standing in for the scat and different types of candy representing a subset of prey the seals ate. The "prey" parts were then compared to a key to identify what fish or cephalopod the seal had eaten. The students then collectively created a combined graph with the total numbers for each prey found in the scats. The habitats and depth ranges for each prey were reviewed to give insight on where seals forage.

To follow this activity, the students watched National Geographic video footage from monk seals instrumented in the MHI. Crittercams are a more recent tool used to study monk seal diet. The video shows the seal's foraging habitat and underwater behavior, but the prey consumed may not always be visible in the footage. However, it does show that seals forage on the bottom, aren't eating prey in the water column, and the seals swim past many fish and don't eat everything they see.