Monk Seal Research Winter Camps Concluded, Spring/Summer Camps Underway in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

In mid-March 2011, scientists in the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program completed studies at winter field camps in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). Camps were established at Laysan Island (for a second season) and at Kure Atoll (for the first time) to study survival of juvenile monk seals and document seal reproduction, male aggression, and causes of mortality during this critical time of year. Winter field camp staff were deployed in August and September 2010 and continued to collect data until their evacuation March 14-16 in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami generated by the March 11th Japan earthquake.

Hawaiian monk seal winter field camp site on Laysan Island, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands prior to the 
                 March 2011 tsunami.
Hawaiian monk seal winter field camp site on Laysan Island, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands prior to the March 2011 tsunami.

After closure of the winter camps, teams of researchers established spring/summer field camps at all major Hawaiian monk seal breeding locations within the NWHI. The season commenced at French Frigate Shoals (FFS), Laysan Island, Lisianski Island, Pearl and Hermes Reef and Kure Atoll during April 5-11. Camps were deployed by the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette and will likely remain active until mid to late August. Population assessment research is also being conducted at Midway Atoll.

As of June, at least 58 pups had been born this year in the NWHI (3 at FFS, 26 at Laysan, 10 at Lisianski, 7 at Pearl and Hermes, 2 at Midway, and 10 at Kure). At least 50% of the pups tagged last year survived the winter and have been re-sighted as yearlings at Laysan, Lisianski, Pearl and Hermes, Midway, and Kure. The proportion of yearlings re-sighted at FFS has been substantially lower, but may increase as the summer field season progresses. In addition to field studies within the NWHI, staff members continue to collect data and respond to events in the main Hawaiian Islands (MHI), where at least 6 pups have been born thus far this year (2 on Kauai, 3 on Molokai, and 1 on Kaho'olawe).

During the tsunami, vegetation and debris washed up to the camp's kitchen weather port.
During the tsunami, vegetation and debris washed up to the camp's kitchen weather port.
The tsunami swept camp supplies, water jugs and debris inland about 200 meters southeast of the Laysan 
                 field camp site.
The tsunami swept camp supplies, water jugs and debris inland about 200 meters southeast of the Laysan field camp site.