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Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital Groundbreaking


The Marine Mammal Center held a groundbreaking ceremony for new Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital on September 15, 2012.

September 17, 2012

1. Dr. Frances Gulland Breaks Ground on the HMS Hospital

Dr. Frances Gulland, Senior Scientist at The Marine Mammal Center, breaks ground on the Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital.

2. Jeff Boehm speaks at the HMS Hospital Groundbreaking

Dr. Jeff Boehm, Executive Director of The Marine Mammal Center, speaks at the Groundbreaking for the Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital.

3. Traditional Hawaiian priest blesses the Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital.

A traditional Hawaiian priest, a kahu, officiates over the blessing of the Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital.

4. Board member Sandor Straus speaks

Board member Sandor Straus speaks at the Groundbreaking Ceremony for the Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital.

Sick and injured Hawaiian monk seals will get a second chance at survival thanks to a soon-to-be built specialized hospital that will serve as the main hospital for the Hawaiian Islands chain, dedicated to the rescue and care of this critically endangered species. During a private blessing celebration on September 15, 2012, The Marine Mammal Center, headquartered in Sausalito, CA, will break ground for the new Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital that will be located on property owned by the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA) at Keahole Point, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Hawaiian monk seals have been on the decline since modern surveying and the population of less than 1,100 individuals is declining by 3 to 4 percent annually. The Center is working in collaboration with NOAA Fisheries, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Team, Hawaii Wildlife Fund, the Kohala Center, NELHA, and several education organizations in this initiative to conserve Hawaiian monk seals.

“Every year we prolong the build of this hospital is another year in which we lose monk seals that could have been saved;” explained Dr. Jeff Boehm, executive director at The Marine Mammal Center, which has rescued and provided medical care for more than 18,000 marine mammals along the central and northern California coast since 1975. “The Center is a key partner in this timely and collaborative effort to lead in the conservation of Hawaiian monk seals. We’re positioned well to bring together the resources to build the Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital and leverage our veterinary and scientific expertise with that of a passionate and supportive community, in order to help these animals in peril.”

To date, The Marine Mammal Center has raised $1.9 million, enough to begin the first phase of construction to include building pens and pools and to have the hospital operational by spring 2014. The $3.2 million project includes two neonate rehabilitation pens and pools, quarantine pen areas, two larger pens and pools for juvenile seals, as well as medical lab, staff office and a patient food preparation kitchen. Future plans call for an education pavilion.

Enjoy this video of the Groundbreaking and blessing ceremony that took place in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii - the site of the future Hawaiian monk seal hospital. Photos courtesy: Heather White Photography.

From the Executive Director, Jeff Boehm:

"We release hundreds of seal and sea lion patients into California waters each year. Those patients tell a story of the great work of the Center – from rescue, to clinical diagnosis and treatment, to the research that we pursue based on their illnesses. Each release is a cause for celebration for the Center team and for each patient. But, with strong populations of harbor seals, elephant seals and California sea lions along our coast, can we claim a sea lion release as a conservation success?

With a moving ground-breaking ceremony for our new Hawaiian monk seal hospital on September 15, the conservation impact of the Center becomes a lot more evident! Several of the Center's representatives joined colleagues, community members, donors and others to witness this remarkable milestone event. A traditional Hawaiian priest, a kahu, officiated over a blessing and wove history, culture, spiritualism and passion into his words. I was left with goose bumps. And, we, all of us, are underway with the construction of our newest satellite facility!

The Hawaiian monk seal population contains about 1,100 individuals and, as you’ll know by now, is dropping by about 3% per year. With every neonatal pup, juvenile, or adult that we will be able to treat at the new facility we will be poised to re-introduce animals back into the Hawaiian waters and into the breeding population. Now, that’s a conservation impact we can all be proud of!

Against an idyllic backdrop of the setting sun, Frances Gulland (senior scientist at the Center) and Sandor Straus (board member) dug in to the lava rock. One shovel will remain at the Kona facility and one will return to Sausalito for display and to help remind us of the powerful connection we have to the Islands, to the community here, and to the Hawaiian monk seal."

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