After six months of care at Ke Kai Ola, our Hawaiian monk seal hospital, two young female seals are returning home to a bright future where they can contribute to the recovery of their species.
Thanks to The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola hospital and our monk seal recovery partners, two healthy seals have rejoined the small but growing population of critically endangered Hawaiian monk seals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
For Hawaiian monk seals Pua ‘Ena O Ke Kai (“fiery child of the sea”) and Meleana (“continuous song”), or Pua and Mele for short, the journey home began two weeks ago when a U.S. Coast Guard HC-130 aircraft crew from Air Station Barbers Point on Oʻahu picked up the seals in Kona and flew them to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.
From there, the seals were loaded onto the offshore supply ship Kahana and departed for Kure Atoll State Wildlife Sanctuary, located at the northernmost point in the Hawaiian archipelago, about 1,350 miles northwest of Honolulu. Kure Atoll is known to have good survival rates for young seals, so it is a preferred release location for rehabilitated animals.
The entire trip took about a week from the pickup in Kona until release, and during that time the animals were monitored around the clock by scientists from NOAA Fisheries, The Marine Mammal Center and the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources.
“The successful rehabilitation and release of these young seals demonstrates the collaboration and innovation that will be necessary to save Hawaiian monk seals from extinction,” said Dr. Rachel Sprague, NOAA Fisheries’ Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Coordinator. “As a result of our intervention, two young female monk seals are now returning home to a bright future where they can contribute to the recovery of their species.”
Mele and Pua were rescued last September in a near-death state of starvation. They were transported from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette to our newly opened Ke Kai Ola hospital in Kona.
Once at Ke Kai Ola, staff and volunteers from the Center spent five months nursing the animals from their malnourished state to the fat healthy seals they were at release. Now these females have a better chance of surviving their first two years of life and will hopefully grow to have their own pups.
Mele and Pua follow in the footsteps—or flipper steps—of our first four Hawaiian monk seal patients at Ke Kai Ola, all of whom were also released back to their home in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Less than a year from its opening, the hospital has already made a significant difference in the future of these young seals, which would almost certainly have died without rehabilitation.
“With 40 years of experience caring for seals and sea lions, The Marine Mammal Center is a primary authority on preventing the extinction of the Hawaiian monk seal,” says Dr. Shawn Johnson, Director of Veterinary Science at The Marine Mammal Center. “After providing Mele and Pua with life-saving medical care, we’re proud to work with our partners to release these healthy seals back to their ocean home.”
The Hawaiian monk seal is critically endangered, with fewer than 1,100 individuals in the wild, including about 900 in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Fewer than one in five Hawaiian monk seal pups in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands survive their first year due to threats like starvation, entanglement in marine debris, male aggression due to abnormally small population size, and more.
Mele and Pua were both fitted with satellite tags before they were released so that we can monitor their movements over the coming months. Now that these two young seals are much healthier, we are hopeful they will someday have pups of their own.
Learn more about Hawaiian monk seals and how you can support their ongoing care at Ke Kai Ola.
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Read about the new Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital.
Learn about Hawaiian monk seals!
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