The subadults are arriving on the beach for their turn at molting. The process looks like it should be itchy, but I've never seen one rubbing it. They often use their front flippers to scratch themselves. They clearly have five digits.
A few adult males have arrived early. They return in August and have the beach to themselves.This large male arrived on the beach, getting a wary eye from a younger, smaller seal.
Apparently, the seals gradually adjust their timing in arriving on
the beach as they get older. The youngsters come in May, along with the
adult females, then gradually older animals arrive.
Look for Crittercam video from Hawaiian Monk Seals in the future. Scientific American reports:
Endangered Hawaiian monk seals (Monachus schauinslandi) have
a bad reputation among some local fishermen, who accuse the
200-kilogram mammals of eating the fish that the humans catch for their
livelihoods. A new project aims to find out if that notoriety is
deserved and the public—in particular, teens—has a chance to
The National Marine Fisheries Service’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program
is about to glue a set of cameras to the backs of several seals in an
attempt to learn more about their feeding patterns. A previous use of
this “Crittercam” technology found that monk seals, contrary to public
opinion, don’t feed close to shore—where the local fishermen tend to
catch fish—but actually swim far out to sea and 80 meters or more below
the surface to dig up eels, octopuses and other goodies.
The cameras for the Hō’ike ā Maka (“To Reveal in the Light”) project,
which will look into the seals’ behavior and critical habitats, have
been donated by the National Geographic Society, but an additional
$25,000 is needed to fund data collection. The sponsors, including the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Monk Seal Foundation,
are looking to the public for the necessary funds. To date, about
$1,500 has been collected. They hope to raise the first $7,500 by
Pat Wardell, president of the Monk Seal Foundation, says the group
turned to crowdfunding as a way to involve the community in the
research. “We didn’t want it to be the type of study where a group of
scientists are diligently working but yet the general public isn’t aware
of their research until the project is done. Instead, we wanted to
create a research and outreach project where people felt as if they were
committed stakeholders and were able to learn and share what’s
discovered throughout the three-year study.”
Several community viewings of unedited Crittercam footage will be
held throughout the project, allowing the public to see the behavior of
monk seals underwater, but a few local teens will have an opportunity to
get even closer to the research: Two Hawaiian high school students to
be selected via an essay contest—entries are due July 22—will get to
join the scientists in the field as they study the seals. “It will be a
chance for them to not only be part of making the discoveries about the
Hawaiian monk seal but also to learn about marine mammal research and
conservation through firsthand experience,” Wardell says.
The first batch of monk seal cameras is expected to be deployed in August.
Once plentiful throughout the Hawaiian Islands, monk seals were
nearly wiped out in the 19th century for their meat, skins and oil.
Today they are a conservation-dependent species with a total population
of about 1,150 animals, although that number continues to drop 4 percent
a year due to disease, low genetic diversity and fishing net
entanglement. The species split evolutionarily from its closest
relatives 15 million years ago and is considered a “living fossil.”
Hawaiian monk seals, along with Mediterranean monk seals (Monachus
monachus) are the only remaining members of their genus.
In other monk seal news, NOAA last week said it will take an additional six months
to determine the range of critical habitat that will have to be
established for the animals, a decision that would affect federal
construction and other activities along thousands of square kilometers
of Hawaiian coastlines. A decision was originally due on June 2.