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170 monk seal pups born at preserve last year

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  • COURTESY SARAH GLOVER / NOAA FISHERIES
                                A monk seal mother and pup are seen at Kure Atoll, or Holaniku, at Papahanau­mokuakea Marine National Monument.

    COURTESY SARAH GLOVER / NOAA FISHERIES

    A monk seal mother and pup are seen at Kure Atoll, or Holaniku, at Papahanau­mokuakea Marine National Monument.

Researchers have documented at least 170 endangered Hawaiian monk seal pups that were born in 2023 at Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

The researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration completed their preliminary count of the monk seal pups and other work during field camps, which took place in 16- to 20-day intervals at various locations during August and September.

During that time, NOAA researchers worked in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, and Pa­pahanaumokuakea Marine Debris Project to monitor and tag Hawaiian monk seals in the remote islands.

NOAA recently announced its tally of 170 monk seal pups at the monument, 10 fewer than the number of pups documented the previous year. The field season at most sites, however, was shortened in 2023.

Of the total, a good number of pups, 50, were born at French Frigate Shoals, or Lalo. At least 159 of those pups successfully weaned, according to researchers. A total of 156 pups were tagged, meaning colored tags with a unique number and letter series were attached to the hind flippers to help identify them and where they were born.

“For over 40 years NOAA Fisheries has worked in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument on Hawaiian monk seal monitoring and recovery efforts. This has resulted in one of the most comprehensive and long-running datasets in conservation science to guide their recovery. Each field camp season brings promise and the data collected this past year continues to let us know that our collective efforts are critical. The 2023 camp was a success thanks to our scientists and partners working together around the shared goal of protecting this precious population. We’re looking forward to continuing this conservation science legacy together,” said Hope Ronco, Marine Biologist, NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center’s Protected Species Division.

Researchers have been monitoring the monk seal population at Papahanau­mo­kuakea since the early 1980s.

The population of endangered monk seals reached a milestone in 2022, surpassing 1,600 for the first time in 20 years.

While counting and tagging monk seal pups, researchers also moved 22 of the weaned pups in areas with high rates of Galapagos shark predation to safer locations. They treated a juvenile female with antibiotics.

The Papahanaumokuakea Marine Debris Project even removed an eel from the nose of one monk seal pup.

The team also released five monk seals that had been rehabilitated at Ke Kai Ola, The Marine Mammal Center’s monk seal hospital in Kailua-Kona, back to the wild at Papahanaumokuakea.

Another milestone the team noted was the birth of the 19th pup to one 28-year-old Hawaiian monk seal known by her tag as YC31 at French Frigate Shoals. NOAA said she currently has the most recorded births of any monk seal.

“Each monk seal pup born represents hope and promise for this once declining population to steadily recover from the brink of extinction,” said NOAA in a blog post. “The 2023 research season was a resounding success thanks to the dedication and passion of our scientists and partners.”

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