Seal Translocations for Survival Enhancement and Completion of the 2014 Northwestern Hawaiian Island Field Effort

November 5, 2014
A weaned pup is translocated to improve its survival. Photo by Jon Brack.
A weaned pup is translocated to improve its survival. Photo by Jon Brack.

In spite of the reduced field effort due to the hurricane evacuations, a significant amount of seal survival enhancement activities were accomplished in 2014, particularly during the NOAA ship Oscar Elton Sette research cruise which had multiple objectives in addition to recovering personnel and closing the NWHI monk seal field camps. During the 21-day cruise which departed on August 30, the ship traveled more than 3,100 miles (2,700 nautical miles) from Kailua-Kona on Hawaii Island to Kure Atoll and back to Kailua-Kona. Seventeen different seals were transported to various locations and while on board they consumed a grand total of 175 pounds of herring. A total of 6 seals were transported between the NWHI and The Marine Mammal Center's monk seal hospital Ke Kai Ola in Kailua-Kona (4 rehabilitated seals were returned to the NWHI and 2 new weaned pups were brought in for care). An additional 11 healthy weaned pups of the year were directly moved to another island where survival was higher than at their birth island. Seven pups from French Frigate Shoals were released at Laysan Island and 4 (2 each from Kure and Midway Atolls) were released at Lisianski Island. This is the first large scale translocation of healthy weaned pups moved directly to other NWHI locations to improve their survival. The only other time this was previously done was in 1990, when 5 healthy pups from French Frigate Shoals were directly translocated to Kure Atoll. Additionally, 8 young seals (4 on Laysan, 2 at Midway and 2 at Lisianski) were biomedically sampled and satellite tagged to compare their movements to the seals that were directly translocated to another location.

A total of 30 scientists participated in this research cruise, including 19 NMFS, 9 State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, and 2 American Bird Conservancy personnel. In addition to recovering all of the field equipment and gear (including 4 boats and over 55,600 pounds of gear), a total of ~4,500 pounds of marine debris was recovered and brought back to Honolulu for incineration. In support of other NOAA research projects, 2 HARPS (High-Frequency Acoustic Recording Package) used to record sounds from marine mammals were recovered and 1 was deployed. Lastly, 10 CTD instrument deployments were conducted to measure conductivity and temperature relative to depth and collect water samples at specified depths to understand ocean currents and productivity.