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KOKI THE MONK SEAL PUP BORN OCTOBER 9, 2009

Hawaiian Monk Seal (Monachus schauinslandi)
(videos embedded down the page)
(For a pdf containing an expanded version of these notes tied to a listing and annotation of the raw video associated with Koki, click here)

Our story begins weeks before in Hana, Maui. Several people saw a large Monk Seal hauling out at Koki beach just south and east of Hana, Hawaii. The seal was identified as RO 15 by NOAA personnel. She was not identified by her tag but rather by her appearance. Her body is scarred by a number of cookie cutter shark marks. Her tag had been off for some time but the scars made her easy to identify.

The NOAA files indicate that this seal had been on the Big Island, as the island of Hawaii is often called to differentiate it from the island state.

Mother was believed to be about twelve years old. She is believed to have birthed seven pups in the vicinity of the North Kohala Lighthouse. Thus she is often referred to as the "Light House Mom."  The pup born on Maui was her first for the island.

Monk seals have a gestation period of eleven months according to some. Others say it is nine months. What I had read and learned over the last few years regarding the birthing and rearing process was that much happened in a period of five to six weeks. I had heard this was a very critical time for the pup. Most any interference with the nursing mother would result in the pup being abandoned. I was told that the mother would not leave the pup and go into the water. That if she did go to ocean she would not be back.

I was told that the mother would double her body weight in the months before birth. That she would nurse the baby for the time period and not eat herself. The pup would weight about twenty-six pounds at birth. In the weeks to follow it would grow to a weight of a hundred and sixty pounds. In that period mother would shrink back to her former body weight and photos I had seen suggested such a severe weight reduction that her ribs were exposed.

At the end of the time period mother would wean the pup by swimming away and leaving the pup on its own to figure things out and sink or swim.

I have to say my knowledge of mammals raising their young garnered over my life time made this scenario rather hard to swallow. Yet this is the gist of what I was being told by the literature and people I believed to be more knowledgeable than I on the subject matter.

When I heard of the birth I thought about making the trek over to Hana to see first hand what happened. I had not been to Hana for years and did not relish the drive. Furthermore I was contacted about performing a wedding on the day of the birth which was moved to the following week. My commitment to the wedding precluded me getting Hana until the pup was ten days old on October 19, 2009.

Following is a sequence of videos taken every five days beginning October 19, 24, 29, November 8, 13, 18, 23, 28 and December 11, 2009.  (I missed November 3 because of fuel pump failure in my truck.)

Directly quoting the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources, Hawaiian Monk Seal (Monachus schauinslandi) page as a reference point I will present my observations.

NOAA Fisheries: "Birthing rates vary with a range of 30-70% of adults females birthing in a given year. While most births occur in late March and early April, birthing has been recorded year round. Pups are about 3 feet (1 m) and 35 lbs (16 kg) at birth. Newborns are black and then molt near the end of their nursing period. Nursing occurs for about 39 days, during which time the mother fasts and remains on land. After this period, the mother abandons her pup and returns to sea, Although they are generally solitary animals, females have been observed fostering others' offspring."

Observations on the birth October 9, 2009 Day 1. I talked with a number of individuals that were in the area at the time of birth. And I have seen pictures taken within the first twenty-four hours. Various people told me about walking up very close to the mother and pup. Mom would growl and lunge when individuals got within a few feet. The literature suggest that the mom  pup bound is rather tenuous and could be easily broken by human interaction. What I observed suggest that this mom was most tolerant of humans and made it quite clear that they were not going to interfere with that bound between mother and offspring. (I noted throughout this event that much of the more intrusive human interaction was associated with NOAA personnel or was facilitated by NOAA's  actions, i.e. the placement of signs and marking tapes causing the gathering of groups of individuals who's audio levels varied from subdued to more ranchos.

October 9, 2009  Day 1 While I talked with a few people who were on the scene for the birth of Koki I did not come up with an actual video of the event. However I did find one on the Internet. This is a link to a video of the birth of a Hawaiian monk seal that I found on ARKive.

http://www.arkive.org//hawaiian-monk-seal/monachus-schauinslandi/video-09c.html

ARKive is the Noah's Ark for the Internet era - a unique global initiative, gathering together films and photographs of the world's animals.
 
 

Observations of  October 19, 2009. Day 10.  Koki the pup is ten days old and a few hours of observations finds him and his mother in the shallows of the surf. Koki is splashing around and coming and going with the wave surge. Mom is in the water and appears to be constantly communicating with the pup. The pup is responding to its mothers call. In the video I suggest the seal will be on the beach five to seven weeks and then abandon the pup. NOAA suggest the nursing for 39 days and that the mother will fast and stay on land. It is my first day of observation and I see a  mother actively involved in taking her pup to the water. I will learn shortly from NOAA personnel that this mother RO 15 has had seven prior pups and nurses for fifty days before weaning. If you pay attention when the pup roles over you can get an idea that it is a male.

The expectation at the start was that the seals would stay at the same part of the beach for the duration. As can be seen in this series that will not be the case.

One thing to note is the close physical and emotional relationship between the pair.

October 24, 2009 Day 15 There are two segments for this date. The one above shows one of the real dangers faced by Monk Seal pups just like other animals including humans. Mothers sometimes roll over on their offspring. I really do not know what the nail biting was about. I was just kidding to suggest it had to do with the trauma of being rolled on. But what is happening? Maybe it is just the little guy finding out what body parts he has that he can touch. It is pretty limited when you think about it. Note at the end of this segment mother is off to the water. In the additional material taken that day Koki headed down to join mom in the water. In these early days the routine varied from snoozing, swimming and nursing. Additionally it would be fair to say the two were virtually inseparable. If not physically in contact they were in constant visual and audio contact.

October 24, 2009. Day 15. In this second  episode the focus is on nursing. The hazards of having breakfast on the beach is the unexpected wave surge. When Koki rolls over it is a good time to confirm the sex determination. As I explain in the video the placement of the four nipples around the navel is the key to sexing adult seals.

October 29, 2009  Day 20 Koki takes the day off is the title of this segment. It was fascinating to watch because unlike other days Koki did not follow his mom down to the ocean. The bottom line is that it is becoming apparent that Koki has a mind of his own! Over time I did see other incidences of Koki seemingly exercising his own initiative and ignoring his mother.

November 3, 2009. Day 25  There is no video for this day. My truck broke down on the road over to Hana. The fuel pump failed and it took me more days than it should have to get the problem figured out and repaired. One of my benefactors during this time did bring me by and I did see the couple right below the overhang. I would have had some really good close-up if I had the camera.

November 8, 2009  Day 30 I love the beginning of this one. The two had gone up the beach under a little ledge above the wave surge. Here I catch her heading out to the water. NOAA states that "the mother fasts and remains on land." It is not an anomaly but rather a basic fact based on my observations that mom daily accompanies the pup into the water and off on field trips. (The thought occurred to me, is a swimming trip a form of field trip or should I be just calling it a swimming trip?)  In the early days mom clearly leads the show. Watch through the series and you can see a change in the leadership. Is something happening here? Is mom teaching Koki to be more assertive?  I am not going to make a decision on that but rather wish just to call that behavior to your attention for your own assessment.

The time period between the seals entering the water and eventually hauling out down the beach is an hour or so. The thing that struck me was Koki's skill level in swimming. This video is devoid of the footage that shows the surf conditions and where the seals are in relation to it.  This video contains just snippets of material. At some point I will prepare another that shows just how skilled Koki has become.

In this video you can see how much of the beach that NOAA controls. A rather large segment when you also consider that the seals tended to stay at the far end. The fortunate thing from a seal observer point of view was that this end of the beach is bounded by cliffs. From the high ground one could zoom and get delightful pictures without really getting very close to the subject. I would suggest that NOAA take a look at their boundary designation and efforts to control the beach. I know from observation that a lot of animosity can become directed at NOAA for their actions and that some of this is directed toward the seals because they are perceived as the causal agent. I will have more to say on this and related matters down the page.

I have to admit I was a bit amused when mom let the NOAA people know that she intended to come on the beach on the wrong side of the signs. I am inclined to believe that this just didn't happen by accident but was a rather deliberate attempt on the seal's part to show who was in charge.

A couple of other items in this video that you might want to look at again. One is the interaction between the seals. In an early segment Koki is alongside his mom and rests a flipper on her. This is also a good segment to observe the making of Monk Seal tracks down the beach. You can see the impressions made by the flippers and then the drag of the bulk of the animal between the two lines of flipper marks.
 
 

November  13, 2009 Day 35 Everything about the events of this day are remarkable. We have been lead to believe that the monk seals would occupy a specific area on the beach and if they were disturbed the link between the mother and pup would be broken and the pup doomed. Instead we find that mother has taken junior out on little excursions over the last few days. The latest being down to the fish pond a half mile or so from their original nesting spot. Mom does not abandon the pup but expands his limited knowledge of the world with ever expanding field trips.

Note the color of the pup. It still appears to be black. Is it slightly lighter? We have been told that the pup will change colors after it has been weaned. It has been suggested the weaning process can be completed in 39 days. In the next segment it appears to me that the pup is slate gray. What strikes me as odd about this stems from my prior knowledge of the Monk Seal shedding it skin. It does not shed it skin like a dog for example i.e. hair by hair but rather it sheds like a snake. The skin comes off in patches. These patches are unique with hair sticking out on both sides of the skin. Mother will do this catastrophic molt within a month or two of finishing the job of raising the pup. What I am wondering is if the shedding of the fur by the pup is different than the catastrophic molt of the mother and more similar to that of a dog. I will be reviewing the videos taken during the time frame from November 13 to November 18. Most of my material is on the anniversary days but I might have a snippet a day or two before or after a given date. I came across a reference to shedding and my suggestion that possibly the first color transition is associated with shedding hairs much like a dog or many other mammals. The catastrophic molt which is basically shedding the skin like a snake will occur presumably a year or so from now. Something to watch for and document..

Another aspect of this new location that struck me was the difference in the substrate. We have moved from a sandy beach to a gravel shore line and a vegetation base of grass and tree leaves.

Observations at night: Up to this point I was not really aware of what was happening at night. I was camping in the National Park down the road. I would leave before dark and return close to sunrise. This day I left late afternoon as a rain front was moving in and I wanted to be in a relatively secure environment during the storm. I had left the seals hauled out sleeping on the grassy slope they had taken to during the day.

Since I had gone to bed so early I found myself awake about two thirty in the morning. Deciding I was up for the day I decided to drive back to the fish pond. The road back was littered with debris from the storm but was not blocked to the point of being impassable. I pulled into the area adjoining the fish pond about three thirty. I decided it would be a good time to go back to sleep and retired into my camper. Occasionally I heard the bark of a monk seal in the night.

At day break when I shifted to the cab of the truck as the morning broke I was astonished to find the seals were within thirty feet of the truck on the other side of a fallen tree. Other volunteers came by and we watched the snoozing seals until later in the morning.

November 18, 2009  Day 40
Note that this video starts with Koki leading the pair down to the water. In earlier videos it has been mom leading the way.  From this day forward it appears to me that Koki is leading events. An interesting point to ponder.

Koki and his mom have been giving the NOAA people fits. They had hauled out on to the roadway that runs adjacent the fish pond. The Hana police were very supportive of efforts to protect the seals and actually closed the road  to through traffic on one of the nights in question.

The colors of the seals is discussed. Koki is still blackish in color. But is he starting to change? He does not appear to have the folds of fur that he had as a little one.

In this sequence we see Koki with what appears to be a fish in his mouth. He is obviously chewing on something in other video that I have of this incident. Other observers have been telling me of seeing Koki with something in his mouth.

Note that mom is right there with Koki and appears to be fishing as well. Published material suggest that mom does not eat during this time frame. Based on what I have seen and documented in these videos I do not think that is the case.

November 23, 2009  Day 45
In my commentary I note that Koki is no longer the black pup of a few days ago. He is now clearly gray in color on the back. His belly is clearly white. Somehow in the few days between the previous video and this one he has shed his black color. I am wondering if the gray hairs grow out through the pup's black covering. Since I really have not seen anything that looks like shedding I wonder if their is another explanation.

As I said in the video it was fascinating to watch Koki swimming with the stick. He looks so at ease in the water.

Again note that both mom and number one son appear to be fishing in the deeper water of the fish pond.

I list the NOAA admonitions recently published in  an article in the Maui news about Koki and his mom.

November 28, 2009 Saturday Day 50  As I mentioned before NOAA was familiar with Koki's mom. She had birthed seven pups on the Big Island. It was also known that her practice was to wean the pup on day fifty. Now I do not know how monk seals keep track of time and since I wanted to see this happen if at all possible, I came to Hana a few days early. Actually driving over Thanksgiving day.

I had been taking video daily wondering what exactly a "weaning" would look like. Based on what I was hearing and what I imagined it seemed that at some point mom would decide to leave. So I was watching for a situation where mom was heading toward the water and quite clearly Koki was not. Day fifty proceeded rather similarly to the previous days. An inseparable pair of seals moving in tandem from their resting spot into the fish pond. Circulating about the pond in what could pass for synchronized swimming. Rear flippers flashing in the air as both mom and pup dived and surfaced. Occasionally with something in their mouth.

After an hour or more of swimming and diving the two headed over to their resting place in the grass adjacent to the fish pond. If you were watching from the road it was the area to your left. A place very familiar to observers that had been watching the pair for any length of time.

Koki proceeded to nurse with mom being accommodating as she usually was in my many days of observation. After dinner Koki moved up the gentle slop to a niche in the tree line. It appeared that he was shacking out. Mom stayed where she was and also appeared to be taking a nap. I had filmed some of the nursing and Koki heading up the slope. I had put the camera away figuring that I had ample footage of sleeping seals and this was a good opportunity to recharge the battery of the camera.

Late afternoon, shortly after five, I see Koki's mom lift her head from her afternoon nap and rotate toward the direction of the water. I run for my camera thinking that this may be it. It has the all the trappings of what I was expecting.

In the brief time it took to grab camera and set up mom has turned toward the water and actually moved a few feet in that direction. Koki is up the hillside and clearly sacked out in the tree line.

Mom stops as she heads toward the water and turns her head to look in the direction of her sleeping pup (this is caught on the video) , after a pause of a few seconds she moves down the  rocks to the water of the fish pond. The tide is out and  much more rocks are exposed than when she came in.

I follow her moving off in the pond and swing the camera back up the hillside to find Koki sleeping.

Anticipating mom's movement across the fish pond to the South East I move down the road. I do not see her and return to the barriers at the side of the road. I am told that she did a swim by. Came down the pond in front of where Koki was and then turned back and headed out to the South East. Again I look for her but do not see her. I have noticed that seals can move very rapidly just at the surface with very little of their head sticking out. They can also go under the water and move off without so much as a ripple. Mom was gone. A check of Koki found him raising his head and opening his eyes and then back to his nap.

Koki was reported to me to be at the same resting spot when checked at nine in the evening by one of the volunteers keeping tabs on the situation. Koki was heard to do his characteristic bray throughout the night. Seemingly more frequent then when his mother was around.

November 29, 2009 Sunday Day 51 The next day at sunrise the volunteers that usually come by first thing to check on the seals were astonished to find that Koki was down in the southern end of the fish pond swimming with his mother! Reports from the literature strongly suggest that once mom splits that is it! I actually say something to that effect in the video. With the benefit of hindsight and more knowledge based on actual observations I feel comfortable in saying that is just not the case. Mother and pup maintain that bond ( I presume for life) and it manifest itself in the days to come. Note in the data to follow the number of times mom is in the area or close by Koki.

This might be a good time to talk about monk seals being solitary in their behavior. With such small numbers present around Maui it is not surprising to see a solitary individual if you are lucky enough to even see a seal. But over the last few years I have seen pairs playing about. And I have seen various gathering of multiple seals in selected areas where they tend to congregate. A blogger on Oahu who's sight is called http://monksealmania.blogspot.com/ reports daily on the going on's of a number of monk seals. Quite often one or more will haul out in the same general area and be within a few feet of other seals.

As the day progresses Koki is doing the usual routine with his mother, swimming, nursing and snoozing.  Late in the afternoon Koki heads up the grassy slope and sacks out.

Late in the afternoon mom makes her move. This time she heads down to the water and heads due east. In just a few minutes she is at the fish pond wall. It actually takes her a few minutes to undulate across the wall. I had no idea how wide the wall was until I watched her cross it. On the far side of the wall there are some serious waves breaking. No problem she just ducks her head and heads out into the open ocean.

Koki appears oblivious to events. He did not seem to bray at night like he had the day before.

November 30, 2009 Monday Day 52. At day break we  find Koki swimming in the fish pond by himself. He appears to be catching and tossing things about as he swims all over the place. One moment he is in close and then he moves out to the deeper portion of the pond. Later he will haul out in his usual spot on the grass and sack out. Koki has been weaned and is on his own. Based on what I had been told I presumed we would not be seeing Koki's mom again, at least not with Koki. This like so much of what I had been told by "authorities" did not turn out to be the case.

December 7, 2009  Day 59 Monday It is reported that Koki's mom came by twice. She reportedly stayed in the water and cruised by twice and then left the area.

December 8, 2009  Day 60 Tuesday Mom returned and  hauled out on grass and stayed most of the day. When mom left there appeared to be some vocalization between the two in the vicinity of the fish pond wall. When the discussion was over mom left to the ocean beyond the wall and Koki returned to his regular spot.

December 9, 2009  Day 61 Wednesday  Koki in and out or on the rocks. No sign of mom over next few days.
 
 

December 11, 2009  Day 63 Sunday  Koki was tagged a few days earlier in the week. The tag number is RA 26. I transpose the letters in the video commentary. The really interesting event is not mentioned in the video but appears in these field notes. Mom came by and paid a visit on two occasions. It is generally reported in the literature that mom and pup do not stay in contact after weaning. This is clearly not the case in Koki's case and must be noted.

December 21, 2009  NOAA personnel are talking about relocating Koki! They are ever fearful that he will get "to friendly" and he must be relocated for his own good. It has been my experience that monk seals are very curious and friendly animals. I have talked with numerous individuals and indeed have photographed a number of encounters between humans and monk seals. In the cases that I am aware of where the seal has been moved it has been detrimental to the animal. In most instances the animal is not seen again and presumed dead.

Fortunately talk of moving Koki dies down and he is not relocated.

January 1, 2010 About 2 pm it is reported that a local woman is sitting near Koki on the grassy knoll and engaged in conversation. This woman has a history of approaching Koki and gives the NOAA people fits over the matter of not interacting with monk seals.

January 2, 2010 Koki is coming in on Koki beach in shallow water with people present. Hauls out near parking lot.

January 4, 2010 Monday no sign of Koki but sighting various days of seal which may be his mom.

January 8, 2010 Friday Koki shows up

January 9, 2010 Saturday not seen

January 10, 2010 Sunday Koki in the rocks all day heads out late
RO 15 (Koki's Mom) and RH 44 are seen together on Black Sand beach

January 11, 2010 Monday is day planned to place transmitter but alas no Koki.

January 12, 2010 Tuesday Transmitter is placed on Koki at the fish pond.

On the Black Sand beach to the south RO 15 is observed but RH 44 is no longer present. About in this time frame I will learn that Bleached mark F 3, tagged RH 44 is the seal that lost the pup in April. This was her third with the two previous born on Molokai.

January 15, 2010 Friday Koki has not been seen since the transmitter was in place. Headed out after it was attached.

January 17, 2010 Sunday Still no Koki, mother seen beach to south and molting. Been there a few days.

January 20, 2010 Wednesday, reports of Koki at Red Sand beach to north. Mom is about finished molting at Black Sand Beach to south.

January 24, 2010 Sunday, reports of Koki  Hana Bay and Red Sand area in general appears moving to the north

January 30, 2010 Saturday, two seals at Red Sand Beach, Koki and Mom? (Red Sand Beach is about two miles North of birth place Koki Beach)

January 31, 2010 Sunday, seal in Hana Bay and thinking it is Koki.

February 2, 2010 Tuesday  Transmitter Imagery shows Koki to North moving about Hana Bay. Northern point with exclusions to East and deeper water.

February 5, 2010 Friday,  Mom and Koki on Red Sand Beach although fifty feet apart.

February 6, 2010 Saturday, Mom at Koki Beach

February 7, 2010 Sunday, Transmitter Imagery shows Koki has moved from Hana Bay down coast to Koki Beach and return Hana Bay.
Koki Black Sand Beach

February 8, 2010 Monday Koki Red Sand Beach (report by mainland visitor)

February 10, 2010 Wednesday Koki Red Sand Beach harassed (Report by mainland visitor)

February 13, 2010 Saturday, Koki at Red Sand Beach with two fish hooks, one in left flipper and second vicinity of genital slit on lower belly. Apparent to observer that he is growing longer.

February 15, 2010 Monday, Mom seen on Prio Beach, Koki heading south

February 17, 2010 Wednesday Transmitter Imagery shows Koki to South of birth beach ranging from Haleakala National Park Visitor Center to west Nonou Bay area.

February 21, 2010  Sunday Transmitter Imagery shows Koki moved from Visitor Center to coast of Makulau.

February 22, 2010 Monday Transmitter Imagery shows Koki off Kalama pretty much in same local with single venture to deeper water to East.

February 28, 2010 Sunday Transmitter Imagery shows Koki off Kalama as above with local movement and one venture to deeper water.
Confirmation reports south of Kaupo, seen by fisherman. (this would be about sixteen miles south and west down the coast from birth place Koki Beach)

March 10, 2010  Wednesday, another seal in the Hamoa Beach area not Koki or his mom

March 11, 2010 Thursday, Transmitter Imagery (appears composite of March 1 - March 11) Show Koki off Kalama and ranging west and east.

March 12, 2010 Friday, Transmitter Imagery  shows single location approximately half way between Kalama Bay and Visitor Center.

March 16, 2010 Tuesday, two other seals in general area, not Koki or mom,  recent printout suggest in general area to south perhaps further down than last

March 21, 2010 Sunday Transmitter Imagery flagged at point near Muolea which is East of Kalama

March 30, 2010 Tuesday, mom at Koki Beach, no sign of kid.

April 2, 2010 Tuesday, may be Koki in bay just south of Makaalae Pt.

April 4, 2010 Thursday Transmitter Imagery Single point flagged 98380 west of Kalama area designated in earlier reports.

April 6, 2010 Tuesday, no sightings from Hana contact on any seals.

April 14, 2010  Wednesday Transmitter Imagery supplied by NOAA has Kalama point marked by yellow pin but no red flags or pins which have been used in the past to designate transmitted location. This position is characterized as "Koki's Spot"

April 19, 2010 Monday, Rumor circulating in the Hana area that Koki is dead. The rumor seems to be from the Kaupo area where our last confirmed siting occurred in the end of February. The story circulating is that Koki was eating too many fish in the area and a spear fisherman put a spear through him. Fact or fiction. At this point I have no confirmation on any of this. The satellite data appears to have ended in that general time frame. Anyone with information is asked to let me know. Address appears in box below.  Aloha Dr. L




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