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Press Release

Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal Receiving Life-Saving Care at The Marine Mammal Center

May 3, 2023
  • Species conservation

Endangered Hawaiian monk seal receiving life-saving care at The Marine Mammal Center

The Marine Mammal Center, the world’s largest marine mammal hospital, has admitted an endangered Hawaiian monk seal at the Center’s hospital in Kailua-Kona. The female monk seal is currently in stable condition. 

The successful rescue of RL68 from Molokaʻi was made possible thanks to support from the community and the Center’s partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response (HMAR).  

“RL68 was in poor body condition for a 4-year-old seal and deteriorating quickly, making intervention necessary for her survival,” says Dr. Sophie Whoriskey, Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Veterinarian at The Marine Mammal Center. 

For an endangered species like the Hawaiian monk seal, every patient matters. We are grateful to the community for their support and our partners for their rapid response ensuring the best chance for her to return to her ocean home.

During the seal’s initial critical care period that included an admission exam, the Center’s veterinary team noted that RL68 was alert and actively exploring her rehabilitation pen. 

Animal care experts are providing her a hearty and calorie-rich diet of sustainably caught herring as well as fluids to help boost her nutritional status and hydration. RL68 is also being treated for gastroenteritis by providing supportive care including antacids and anti-nausea medication. 

The Center’s veterinary team took a series of radiographs (X-rays) and performed an ultrasound exam to look for signs of internal trauma or other ailments. Experts also submitted a series of blood samples for diagnostic testing to check for signs of disease, which will take several weeks to process.

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A timely response to a seal in need

On April 10, a member of the Molokaʻi community alerted NOAA that RL68, a regular on Molokaʻi, had been losing a significant amount of weight and becoming less and less energetic over the past several weeks. 

With input from HMAR, NOAA decided that given RL68’s unusually thin body condition and notable behavior change, medical assessment and treatment were in her best interest. 

The NOAA and HMAR Molokaʻi team, with support from the community, then jumped into action. 

“RL68 is a well-known seal that frequents west side beaches on Molokaʻi. But you never really know where a seal is going to be.” said Todd Yamashita, HMARʻs Molokaʻi Community Programs Manager. “Imagine our surprise that RL68 – the seal we were looking for – was the first seal we spotted the day of the rescue operation!"

Being directly involved with helping one of our Molokaʻi seals, with the help of Molokaʻi HMAR volunteers who know and love these shorelines, that is the highlight of this experience.

The team successfully rescued RL68, and on April 13, USCG transported her to the Center.  

Since 2014, the Center has rehabilitated and released 40 monk seals, most of which have been rescued from and returned to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as part of the Center’s partnership with NOAA Fisheries, utilizing resources in the area to identify seals in need, rescue and rehabilitate them, and give them a second chance at life. 

The Center’s partnership with NOAA Fisheries and other cooperating agencies is more important than ever to prevent this endangered species from becoming extinct.  

Volunteer Opportunities on Hawaiʻi and Maui

The Marine Mammal Center is recruiting new volunteers for operations on Hawai‘i Island and Maui. Recruitment ends on May 12. Learn more about volunteering and sign up to attend upcoming virtual trainings.

Hawaiian monk seal conservation volunteers play an integral role in helping save this endangered species by monitoring and identifying seals that may require rescue and rehabilitation. Volunteers also provide valuable public outreach to help raise awareness about the risks of human and pet interactions, and why this native animal is critical to the health of our shared ocean home.

Yes! I want to volunteer!

The Center values volunteer engagement and inclusivity, and is proud to welcome existing and new volunteers into its ohana, or family, to create an even more robust and diverse community of volunteers.


For more information or to set up an interview on this topic, please contact us at media@tmmc.org.



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Header image: Photo by Sophie Whoriskey © The Marine Mammal Center / NOAA permit #24359

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Sophie Whoriskey
Hawaiian Monk Seal