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Say Aloha to `Awapuhi and Mililani

As four healthy monk seals are released in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, two more patients are brought back to Ke Kai Ola for long-term care.

June 23, 2017

Hawaiian monk seals `Awapuhi and Mililani at French Frigate Shoals.
© NOAA permit #16632

Two endangered Hawaiian monk seals were recently transported by NOAA researchers from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and brought to The Marine Mammal Center’s monk seal hospital, Ke Kai Ola, where they will receive rehabilitative care.

Both animals, a female pup named `Awapuhi and a three-year-old female named Mililani, are suffering from malnutrition, so our animal care experts are focused on getting them the nutritious fish meals they need to grow strong and healthy.

Our veterinarians say `Awapuhi was weaned too early and almost certainly would not have survived without help due to her small size and young age. Mililani is also much too small for her age—although she is three years old, she is about the size of a one- or two-year-old animal, and she’s so skinny that the outlines of her ribs and shoulder blades are visible.

The good news is that both animals have shown improvement since arriving at Ke Kai Ola. After being tube-fed a fish smoothie formula for several weeks, `Awapuhi is transitioning to eating whole fish, an important sign of progress for a young pup. Mililani has also been eating well—in fact, after receiving a de-worming treatment to remove her parasites, she has gained almost 20 pounds in the last week!

Meet Our Current Patients:

  • `Awapuhi -- a female pup whose name means “ginger” because she was rescued on Gin Island in French Frigate Shoals
  • Mililani – a three-year-old female rescued on Tern Island in French Frigate Shoals whose name means “gift from god”
Hawaiian monk seals `Awapuhi and Mililani at French Frigate Shoals.
© NOAA permit #16632

Ke Kai Ola Manager Deb Wickham accompanied the NOAA research vessel Oscar Elton Sette on its journey from the Main Hawaiian Islands out to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, a 1,200-mile archipelago of small islands and atolls that is home to about 1,100 endangered Hawaiian monk seals, nearly 80 percent of the entire population.

In addition to helping care for the two incoming patients, Wickham was able to witness the release of our four most recent Ke Kai Ola patients: male pup Niho`ole, female pup Lele-aka, female yearling Ha`aheo and five-year-old Mea Ola, the oldest monk seal we’ve rehabilitated to date. Wickham says they all seemed at home on the sandy atolls.

“Ha`aheo explored her surroundings, splashing and digging in the sand, and was even blowing bubbles! She seemed quite at ease on the island where she came from,” Wickham says. “When Mea Ola was released nearby, they touched noses and started rolling around together.”

Hawaiian monk seals (clockwise from upper left) Niho`ole, Ha`aheo, Mea Ola, Lele-aka.
Photos by Julie Steelman © The Marine Mammal Center, NOAA permit #18786

When Wickham and the NOAA researchers returned to the Main Hawaiian Islands, they had another heartwarming story to share: The team had spotted a healthy Maka`ala, one of Ke Kai Ola’s first patients, at French Frigate Shoals. Maka`ala was one of four monk seals cared for at Ke Kai Ola before the Center even held its grand opening in 2014.

The resight is significant because it demonstrates the long-term impact of our work to save this species. Since opening the hospital three years ago, The Marine Mammal Center’s veterinary experts have successfully rehabilitated nearly two percent of this endangered population, returning 19 healthy monk seals to the wild with two more in our care now.

Researchers estimate the current monk seal population to be about 1,400 animals, and about 30 percent of those monk seals are alive today directly due to conservation efforts. Young seals are the most vulnerable animals in the population, with relatively few surviving to adulthood. Pups and juvenile seals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands often fall victim to threats like entanglement in ocean trash, changes in the food chain and predation.

Hawaiian monk seals are also highly sensitive to climate change impacts. Sea-level rise and increased coastal erosion will reduce the haul-out sites they depend on, and may increase shark predation. Increasing sea surface temperatures will limit available prey for marine mammals just as it has on the West Coast of the United States.

The two monk seals in our care right now are likely to stay at our facility in Kona for at least a few months while they gain strength before returning to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands where they were rescued.

As these seals mature and have pups of their own, monk seal experts hope this will improve the species’ chances of survival in the islands that have been their home for millions of years.

The Marine Mammal Center's team also monitors Hawaiian monk seal haul out activity on the island of Hawaii and manages rescue efforts for sick and injured seals reported to the hospital’s 24-hour hotline (808-987-0765).

Hawaiian monk seal pup Niho'ole on the beach.
© NOAA permit #16632

You Can Be a Hawaiian Monk Seal Hero

Thanks to our generous donors, young Hawaiian monk seals like `Awapuhi and Mililani are able to get a second chance at life in the wild. You can make a real difference for this endangered species and all of the marine mammals in our care by making a life-saving gift today.




Read more about Working With Endangered Species.

Learn about Hawaiian monk seals!

Find out about the Current and Released Patients at Ke Kai Ola.


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