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2nd July, 2012

Notes from the Field

The Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program is posting some fascinating updates and observations on its Facebook page from its latest tour of duty among the far-flung atolls of the North Western Hawaiian Islands. Here is the latest:

Notes from the Field: Update from Laysan Island Monk Seal Team

We have hit the field running on Laysan. For a reunited, returning crew, it has been relatively easy to do just that. With the field camp up and running by the end of offload day, we were able to start surveys our second day on island.

Within the first week, we were able to tag all 21 weaned pups. Tags are placed on the hind flippers to give each seal a unique set of tags used to identify that seal throughout its life. Once these pups were tagged, it was onto the next set of priorities.

We are paying particular attention to juveniles (1-3 year olds) identified on survey. To improve the survivorship of this age class, these animals have been treated to minimize their parasite load. We are treating yearlings and two-year olds with a topical deworming medication. We have been able to treat 11 animals so far. We will be able to analyze the effectiveness of these treatments by collecting scat samples from treated animals.

In addition to tagging and deworming, we are identifying all other individuals by flipper tags or other unique identifiers on survey. We are applying bleach marks to the pelage of individuals using hair bleach to aid in identifying individuals. These numbers can be read from a distance, are easier to read than flipper tags, and reduce the risk of disturbance. We are taking pictures to keep a photo identification database up to date and collecting scats for prey, parasite, and hormone analysis. Depending on the survey, we are also observing behavior and interactions.

It’s a laundry list of things to do on survey, but worthwhile as observations and data collected broaden the understanding of the species.

Further info: Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program (on Facebook).

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