Drone footage recently captured a mother humpback whale "tail-sailing," or basically doing a headstand in the ocean with its tail out of the water, catching the wind like a sail. The "tail-sailing" is common among southern right whales, but has rarely been documented among humpback whales.
The footage was captured during a two-week study by the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries' Collaborative Center for Unmanned Technology, which also used drones to conduct health assessments of the whales from a closer distance.
Volunteers continue to count sightings of the humpback whales from the shores of Kauai, Oahu and the Big Island on the last day of the month in January, February and March. As featured in today's Green Leaf column, some of these volunteers, like June Kawamata, are dedicated citizen scientists. Kawamata, a retired oordinator from Kailua High School's cafeteria, served as an Ocean Count site leader at Lanai Lookout for 20 years. She still heads out when she can, out of a love for the whales.
Boaters are also reminded to be vigilant during humpback whale season, which generally runs from November through May in Hawaii. Mariners are asked to report any collisions with whales, or injured or entangled whales to NOAA's 24-hour hotline at 1-888-256-9840.
Academy Award-winning film director Louie Psihoyos exposes the underground world of the endangered species trade in his new film, "Racing Extinction," which was screened for a Honolulu audience on Friday evening.
The director of "The Cove," which exposed the annual dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan, and his team from the Oceanic Preservation Society focus this time on the underground market of shark finning in China and covert offering of whale meat at The Hump, a now closed-down sushi restaurant in Santa Monica, Calif.
Vulcan Productions and the Hawaii Wildlife Coalition hosted the free screening on Friday evening at Blaisdell Concert Hall in celebration of World Wildlife Day.
"Each year about one in a million species should expire naturally," said Stuart Pimm, conservation ecologist from Duke University in the film. "In the next few decades, we'll be driving species to extinction a thousand times faster than they should be."
In 100 years or so, we could lose up to 50 percent of all species on earth, according to the film. No surprise, humans are the driving force of this mass extinction.
The film focuses heavily on the shark finning and exotic animal trade in China. It also looks at the killing of manta rays in Lamakera, a remote fishing village in Indonesia, for their gills, which are being touted as a Traditional Chinese Medicine cure.
While "Racing Extinction" covers a broad swathe, addressing a range of issues from ocean acidification to carbon emissions and their impact on the earth, it does not delve into the world of elephant and rhino poaching in Africa or other parts of the world.
It offers beautiful, underwater footage of blue whales, dolphins, whale sharks, hammerhead sharks and manta rays.
After the screening, actress Kristin Bauer van Straten moderated a panel including race car driver Leilani Munter (whose mother is from Kona and who is in the film), Jeffrey Flocken, North America regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Elly Pepper, policy advocate of the Land & Wildlife Program for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Actress Kristin Bauer van Straten moderates the panel discussion following the film's screening at Blaisdell Concert Hall with race car driver and environmental activist Leilani Munter, Jeffrey Flocken of IFAW and Elly Pepper of NRDC. An endangered Hawaiian monk seal is on the screen behind them. Seals are not featured in the film.
Hawaii is the third largest market for ivory in the U.S., behind New York and California, according to a brochure from the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i. The latter two states now have laws in place.
The council urged support for HB2502 and SB2647, which would prohibit the trafficking of any part of protected animal species in Hawaii, including any species of elephant, rhinoceros, tiger, great ape, Hawaiian monk seal, shark, ray, sea turtle, walrus, narwhal, whale, lion, pangolin, cheetah and more. For the full list, see the bill.
Despite the gruesome discoveries, the film concludes with a message of hope that we can save animals from going extinct.
"If we all lose hope there is no hope," said Jane Goodall, who is seen in the film, releasing a chimpanzee back into the wild. "Without hope, people fall into apathy. There's still a lot left worth fighting for."
"Racing Extinction" was broadcast on The Discovery Channel on Dec. 2, but is also available on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play.
Juvenile, female monk seal at Midway Atoll. Photo courtesy NOAA/Stacie Robinson.
In an effort to further protect endangered Hawaiian monk seals, NOAA Fisheries announced the beginning of routine vaccinations of the pinnipeds on Oahu.
The proactive measure, announced Feb. 19, is part of a concerted effort to protect the monk seals in advance against morbillivirus, a disease which could possibly be passed on to them via unvaccinated dogs with distemper or other marine mammals, including whales, dolphins and other wayward seal species. There is no disease outbreak affecting Hawaiian monk seals at this time.
Morbillivirus, once introduced into seals, can spread rapidly through respiratory secretions. Outbreaks of morbillivirus have caused the deaths of thousands of dolphins and seals in other parts of the world. Hawaiian monk seals are at risk due to a lack of immunity to morbillivirus and poor genetic diversity.
Initial efforts will focus on Oahu, and continue until October.
The outlook for Hawaiian monk seals, is improving, slowly but surely, according to the latest State of the Seal address in mid-February, with the population now at 1,272 compared to about 1,100. More seal pups were born across the archipelago in the last year compared to previous years. Besides vaccinations, officials are intervening with disentanglement and de-hooking efforts.
On June 1, 2006 Hawaiian monk seal R5AY gave birth in a North Shore location. PHOTO BY DENNIS ODA., JUNE 9, 2006.
The Hawaiian monk seal is one of NOAA's eight selected "Species in the Spotlight" with its own five-year action plan. The other species include the Atlantic Salmon in the Gulf of Maine; central California coast coho; Beluga Whale of Cook inlet; Pacific Leatherback sea turtle; winter-run Chinook of Sacramento River; southern resident Killer Whale and white abalone.
As the year 2015 comes to a close, the Green Leaf shares the following Keiki Kalikimaka ornaments that did not make it into the paper, but hold an honorary place in this blog.
Here is a beautiful one-of-a-kind sketch of a nene goose in a Santa hat set against a rainbow, blue sky and marsh with vivid color and details. By Samantha Shiroma, 6, of Ahuimanu Elementary School.
Celebrating Hawaiian monk seals, this Keiki Kalikimaka ornament features a seal in Santa hat in repose on the shoreline by Katerina Im, 10, of Aina Haina Elementary School. Remember, when the seals are resting on the shore, let them sleep.
Another playful sketch of a Hawaiian monk seal (look at those eyes! so realistic) with presents and an elf atop his head. This seal is swimming in the ocean. Mahalo Kira Tobita, 11, of Mililani Middle School. Beautiful drawing.
Hawaiian monk seal with Santa hat frolicking in the waves. Mahalo to Kristen Ching, 11, Punahou School for this beautiful Keiki Kalikimaka ornament.
Artwork of a Hawaiian monk seal among marine debris by Jacqueline Le of Hawaii. One of the winners from the 2015 NOAA Marine Debris Art Contest (to be featured in the 2016 calendar).
It's time again for the NOAA Marine Debris Art Contest, which opened on Tuesday, Oct. 20. All students from Kindergarten through 8th grade from U.S. states and territories are eligible to participate.
The deadline for entries (form here) is Nov. 30. Winners will be featured in the 2017 Marine Debris Calendar.
The phrase "marine debris" sometimes draws a blank stare — it's a formal name for basically, trash, or things that don't belong in the ocean. Examples include plastic wrap, plastic forks and spoons, plastic toys, metals takeout lunch waste, pieces of rope, plastic bags, paper napkins, derelict fishing gear and other items, which are prevalent from the ocean floor to the surface.
The five most common items tallied by the International Coastal Cleanup: plastic cigarette butts, plastic food wrappers, plastic beverage bottles, plastic bottle caps and plastic straws.
NOAA defines it as "any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment or the Great Lakes. It is a global problem, and it is an everyday problem. There is no part of the world left untouched by debris and its impacts. Marine debris is a threat to our environment, navigation safety, the economy and human health."
Where does it come from? Basically, humans (visiting the beach, leaving litter by sewers and throwing trash off of fishing boats). But every person has the power and ability to prevent it. Preventing the trash from entering the ocean in the first place is a good step.
Watch this video for an introduction to marine debris, where it comes from and solutions:
Here's a look at winners from 2015, which were just announced for 2016 calendar. A finalist from Hawaii has been chosen since the contest started in 2010, originally in the isles, before it expanded nationwide.
Artwork by Claire, California. 2015 NOAA Marine Debris Art Contest winner.
Artwork by Madison, Hawaii. 2015 NOAA Marine Debris Art Contest winner.
Artwork by Gautham K., California. 2015 NOAA Marine Debris Art Contest winner.
Artwork by Elizabeth, Florida. 2015 NOAA Marine Debris Art Contest winner.
Artwork by Ryan, Michigan. 2015 NOAA Marine Debris Art Contest winner.
Kilo, the Hawaiian monk seal that NOAA rescued from Niihau, resting on an ohia log at Ke Kai Ola. Photo courtesy The Marine Mammal Center. NOAA Permit No. 18786.
Ke Kai Ola, the Hawaiian monk seal hospital run by The Marine Mammal Centerat NELHA in Kona, is rehabilitating seven seals.
The hospital has successfully rehabilitated and released eight seal patients over the past year, mostly malnourished pups from the Northwestern Hawaiian islands, or Papahanaumokuakea, that would otherwise had little chance of survival. The monk seal population at Papahanaumokuakea is in decline primarily due to poor juvenile survival — fewer than one in five survive their first year due to marine debris entanglement, predators and starvation.
Most recently, NOAA returned Pearl and Hermes to the atolls where they were found. Pearl and Hermes were pre-weaned pups that were able to pretty much double their weight at Ke Kai Ola. They were healthy enough for release after just four months.
Fewer than 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals remain in Hawaii. While the majority reside in the more remote isles of Papahanaumokuakea, a growing number of pups are being born in the main Hawaiian isles, which is home to between 150 to 200 seals. However, NOAA's Hawaiian Monk Seal Research team recently surveyed monk seal breeding sites along the 1,200-mile archipelago and found that 148 pups were born in Papahanaumokuakea this year, up 22 percent from 2014.
While Pearl and Hermes were transported back home (see pics below) aboard the Oscar Elton Sette, the team rescued six new patients — five female pups and one juvenile female — and transported them back to Ke Kai Ola. The team also rescued Kilo, a female monk seal pup found earlier on the island of Niihau. For the first time, all four of the pool pens at Ke Kai Ola are full.
For further depth and details on the journey, read the wonderfully descriptive and humorous Kim Rogers' Malama Monk Seal blog series, which will take you on the trip and get you acquainted with the remote isles and each seal.
"All of our research cruises have seals on them now — either seals headed to Kona for rehabilitation or headed back home fat, healthy and ready for their return to the wild," said NOAA's monk seal research scientist Charles Littnan. "This hospital and our ship-turned-ambulance means new hope for monk seals."
Current monk seal patients at Ke Kai Kola include:
>> Kilo (pictured above). Female pup and the first from the main Hawaiian islands at Ke Kai Ola. Her name means "sassy." She is doing well, and while she's still being tube fed, she's starting to show an interest in whole fish, which is a positive sign.
>> Ama‘ama, a female pup named for the French Frigate Shoals where she was born.
>> Puka, a female pup named for the scar on her neck.
>> Neva, a female pup named for Neva Shoals on Lisianski Island, where she was found.
>> ‘Ena‘ena, a female pup named for a small, silver plant native to Kure Atoll, where she was found.
>> Mahina, a female pup named after the super moon, when she was found.
>> Mo‘o, a one-year-old female named for the mythical Hawaiian lizards and shapeshifting dragons. Most of us will think of geckos.
Ama‘ama and Puka resting at Ke Kai Ola. NOAA permit 18786.
Six new patients arrive at Ke Kai Ola. Two rest by the pool. NOAA Permit 18786.
Hermes and Pearl have returned to Papahanaumokuakea. Photo by Julie Steelman. NMFS Permit 16632-00 and 932-1905-01MA-009526-1.
Pearl and Hermes in shore pen. NOAA Permit 16632.
Back home. Pearl and Hermes official release. NOAA Permit 16632
If you see a Hawaiian monk seal resting on the shoreline, give it space and let it rest. The monk seal hotline is 220-7802 (for Oahu) or 1-888-256-9840.
Hawaiian monk seal pups Hermes and Pearl resting by the pool pen at Ke Kai Ola, a hospital run by The Marine Mammal Center in Kona. Hermes and Pearl were rescued as pre-weaned pups at Pearl and Hermes atolls in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. NMFS Permit 16632-00 and 932-1905-01MA-009526-1. Photo credit: Julie Steelman.
Happy monk seal Monday.
Here's an update on Pearl and Hermes — two prematurely weaned Hawaiian monk seal pups that NOAA researchers picked up from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, or Papahanaumokuakea, aboard the Hi‘ialakaiin early June. The pair, one female and one male, are being rehabbed at Ke Kai Ola in Kona and doing well.
The seals, named Hermes and Pearl after the atollwhere they were found, graduated from fish smoothies to eating whole fish last week. The shift to eating fish (thawed-out herring) is a significant step since it eliminates the need for tube feeding.
"Pearl is starting to put on weight," said operations manager Deb Wickham. "Hermes is not putting on as much, but he's basically stable."
Pearl weighs about 35 kilograms, and Hermes weighs about 36 kilograms.
When the monk seal pups first arrived, they were under a month old, with black coats. Their coats are now turning into a silvery sheen. Besides herring, Pearl and Hermes are also enjoying "fishstickles" this summer. They sleep a lot during the day, according to Wickham, but are also playful. They're up early in the morning, and at night.
"When they first arrived, they were suckling on each other," said Wickham. "They play together. They are very bonded."
Pearl, a Hawaiian monk seal pup rescued from Pearl atoll, peeks out from her pen at Ke Kai Ola, the monk seal hospital in Kona where she's being rehabilitated. When she gains enough weight, she'll be released back home. NMFS Permit 16632-00 and 932-1905-01MA-009526-1. Photo credit: Julie Steelman.
Wickham actually got a chance to observe them in the wild on this last 21-day voyage to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands aboard NOAA's Hi‘ialakai.
"They're doing really well, doing great," said Wickham, who added that seeing Pua and Mele healthy at home was the best reward.
Hawaiian monk seals are critically endangered, with a population of fewer than 1,100 remaining in the wild, according to NOAA. They are protected by both state and federal laws, and should be left in peace if resting on a shoreline. A growing number, between 150 to 200, are appearing on main Hawaiian isle shorelines like Maui, Kauai and Oahu. Volunteers from the Monk Seal Foundation help keep watch over them, as well as maintain a safe distance between the wild seals and humans.
Ke Kai Ola, a brand-new facility at NELHA, offers specialized pens and pools for the rehabilitation of Hawaiian monk seals, plus a fish kitchen, lab and office. The hospital welcomes help from volunteers in the community who want to help with its mission of helping save the critically endangered monk seals. Visit www.marinemammalcenter.org/hawaiito learn more.
Hermes at Ke Kai Ola in Kona. Hermes just began eating whole fish and is on his way to recovery. NMFS Permit 16632-00 and 932-1905-01MA-009526-1. Photo credit: Julie Steelman.
Pua and Mele being released at Kure Atoll (By The Marine Mammal Center)
Schoolchildren, teachers and other members of the public had lined up in a V-shape along the shores of Rodeo Beach in Marin, Calif., to witness the release of two rescued sea lions by staff at The Marine Mammal Center.
Once released from their kennels, California sea lions Zeno and Shackle, did not linger or hesitate. They shuffled quickly along the sand, making a beeline for the ocean. As they entered the water together, a smattering of applause came from the audience.
Then we watched in delight, as their two heads bobbed in the waves. It was a beautiful sight.
Zeno and Shackle head out to their ocean home after being rescued and released by The Marine Mammal Center at Rodeo Beach in Marin, Calif. The two seals were rescued from the Santa Cruz and Monterey area.
Beautiful, because these wild mammals are returning to their natural habitat, where they should be. Beautiful, because they were being given a second chance — humans may have created the problems that hindered them, but humans can also be part of the solution.
What the audience may not have known is how much work it took to get the wild sea lions into the kennel, weighed on a scale, then carefully loaded onto a pickup truck and carted across the sand for the release. Staff and volunteers at the center all played a vital role.
The release was also a small, uplifting celebration in the midst of a sea lion crisis. For the third year in a row, sea lion pups are stranding along the California coastline in record numbers. While the center usually houses about 10 sea lion pups, it was taking care of nearly 100. TIME Magazine on Feb. 18 explored whether the strandings could be caused by rising ocean temperatures impacting the diet of sea lions (squid, anchovies, mackerel).
"We call sea lions sentinels of the sea," said MMC communications curator Sarah van Scagen. "What's going on with them can tell us a lot about the oceans as a whole."
Zeno, a female California sea lion, was rescued from Santa Cruz in January. She was behaving abnormally for a sea lion, and rescuers who picked her up confirmed she was suffering from domoic acid toxicity. Domoic acid, produced by algae, accumulates in shellfish, sardines and anchovies, which in turn, are consumed by sea lions. The biotoxin affects the brain, causing lethargy and disorientation. It can also affect people, so the center gives the health department a heads up when it discovers a case like Zeno's.
For Shackle, a male California sea lion picked up from Monterey, the problem was simpler – he had been entangled with a fishing net around his neck that left a scar. But luckily, once the net was removed, he quickly regained weight and was ready to be released.
Releasing two sea lions together is ideal, according to van Schagen, because they can keep one another company. Sea lions are, by nature, social animals.
That seemed apparent — the pair seemed as if they were immediately bonded as they headed into the waves.
TMMC, founded in 1975, is the non-profit that recently celebrated the grand opening of Ke Kai Ola (The Healing Sea), the first monk seal hospital at NELHA in Kona, in September. With more than $3.2 million raised in funds, TMMC was able to build four pens with pools – two for juvenile and adult seals and two for pups, along with a fish kitchen, medical lab and seawater filtration infrastructure for the pools.
Ke Kai Ola's first patients were four young, malnourished monk seals — Kulia, Ikaika, Hala‘i and Maka‘ala — from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. They were admitted in July, and released (nice and fat again) on Aug. 31. The center's current patients are Meleana and Pua, also from the NWHI, who were admitted as malnourished pups in September. Hopefully, they'll be released soon, too.
Sea lions Zeno and Shackle, are released and ready to head back to their ocean home.
Boobie bird at Palmyra Atoll, to be featured in the "Oceans" segment of PBS Hawaii's "Earth A New Wild" airing Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 10 p.m. Photo courtesy of Dave Allen.
From baby pandas in China to humpback whales in Alaska and reef sharks at Palmyra Atoll, Dr. M. Sanjayan, a leading conservation scientist, explores humankind's relationship to the planet's wildest places.
"Earth A New Wild,"produced by National Geographic Studios in association with Passion Planet, premieres "Oceans" on PBS Hawaii (KHET) at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 18. A preview of the film was screened at ProtoHub Honolulu by The Nature Conservancy and PBS Hawaii last Thursday. The team visits 29 different countries, capturing spectacular natural history footage — what distinguishes this series from other nature films is that this time, humans are in the picture.
Episodes One (Home), Two (Plains) and Three (Forests) have already aired, starting Feb. 4, but are available onlineand scheduled for encores for the rest of February.
The "Oceans" segment (preview here)has many messages relevant to Hawaii — overfishing, coastal pollution, climate change and sea level rise, not to mention the growing "rise of slime."
It opens with scenes from Palmyra atoll, a national marine monument located 1,000 miles south of Hawaii which gives us an idea what an untouched ecosystem still looks like. It's a place where the top predators, sharks, are still thriving abudantly over a healthy coral reef. It was once considered a part of the Territory of Hawaii, then became an unincorporated U.S. territory and was occupied by the U.S. military during World War II. Today it is owned and managed as a nature preserve by The Nature Conservancy.
Sanjayan looks at potential causes as well as solutions to this rise of slime in the ocean, including a revival of oysters, which play a vital role in cleaning up the waters around Manhattan.
It's clear that Sanjayan, who has spent 25 years in conservation, has a passion for nature and animals — he travels to the edge of the Earth, plunges into the ocean, parachutes in the air, hangs out with Dr. Jane Goodall and chimpanzees, and cuddles with baby pandas. Watch the live birth of a lemon shark.
Dr. Jane Goodall reveals her plan for ways for village dwellers to coexist with the wild chimpanzees through the planting of "wildlife corridors" — corridors of trees at the edge of farmers' lands so that the chimpanzees have a way to travel and inter-breed with one another.
At every frontier, he discovers how much humans and wildlife need each other to survive. The question nowadays is how do we coexist?
Says Sanjayan: "Now, my mission is to tell you an untold story, where we humans are not separate from nature. We are part of it."
Dr. Sanjayan with a panda in the bamboo forests of China. Photo courtesy of Ami Vitale.
Hawaiian monk seals Kulia and Ikaika in the pool at Ke Kai Ola. The malnourished seal pups were transported from the Northwestern Hawaiian Isles to the hospital in Kona. The seals were able to gain weight, and were released back in the NWHI Aug. 31. Photo by Sarah van Schagen, NMFS permit 16632-00.
Ke Kai Ola, the new Hawaiian monk seal hospital in Kona, held its grand opening and blessing on Sept. 2.
The Marine Mammal Center's new, $3.2 million facility, which means the healing sea in Hawaiian, is dedicated to giving sick and injured Hawaiian monk seals a second chance.
Previously, malnourished pups like the four were left behind to fend for themselves by scientists, who had no place to take them.
"We built this hospital to save a species," said Jeff Boehm, executive director of The Marine Mammal; Center. "Thenks to funding from the Firedoll Foundation as well as a generous family foundation and hundreds of donors throughout the world, this hospital can now provide life-saving medical care."
The Hawaiian monk seal population hovers at about 1,100, with fewer than one in five pups surviving their first year in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands due to threats like marine debris entanglement, changes in the food chain and predators.