ESR prepress abstract  -  doi: 10.3354/esr00788

An integrated approach for assessing translocation as an effective conservation tool for Hawaiian monk seals

Tenaya A. Norris*, Charles L. Littnan, Frances M. D. Gulland, Jason D. Baker, James T. Harvey

*Email: norrist@tmmc.org

ABSTRACT: For threatened and endangered species, translocations have been widely used to mitigate multiple sources of mortality that threaten population recovery. Although numerous Hawaiian monk seals Neomonachus schauinslandi have been translocated for a variety of purposes, few monk seal translocations have addressed the problem of prey limitation. To assess the efficacy of using translocations to mitigate reduced prey availability, 12 weanling monk seals were translocated with pre-release health screening and post-release monitoring. Specifically, the health, foraging behavior, habitat use, and survival of translocated seals were compared with those of 17 monk seals resident to the release site. There was little evidence of infectious diseases in translocated and resident seals, although Chlamydophila abortus antibodies and enteric bacteria were detected in many individuals. Translocated and resident weanling seals also demonstrated similar diving, movements, and habitat use, whereas resident adult seals had greater variability in foraging patterns. First-year survival for translocated weanlings (50%, n = 12) and non-translocated weanlings at the donor (31%, n = 36) and recipient sites (69%, n = 16) was related to weaning body size, with larger individuals having greater survivorship. These results supported 3 main conclusions that have important consequences for future translocation and population recovery efforts: (1) there was minimal risk of exposing seals to novel infectious diseases as a result of translocation; (2) individuals translocated with limited foraging experience rapidly adapted to their post-release environment; and (3) translocation for the purpose of mitigating prey limitation is a viable and important conservation tool for Hawaiian monk seals.