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Hawaiian monk seal Hilinai
Patient Update

Monk Seal Pups Had Less Than One Percent Chance of Survival Before Rescue

September 12, 2019
  • Species conservation

Four female Hawaiian monk seal pups were rescued from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands after weaning early and becoming malnourished. They are now receiving treatment at our hospital on Hawai‘i Island.

Just weeks after roll-backs to the Endangered Species Act were announced, The Marine Mammal Center admitted four endangered Hawaiian monk seals to Ke Kai Ola – our hospital and visitor center in Kailua-Kona, Hawaiʻi.

Successfully rescuing the four weaned female pups, made possible through our collaborative partnerships with agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is a testament to the important role legal protections play for Hawaiian monk seals and other beloved threatened and endangered species.

“This is a critical time for the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Giving a second chance to four new female pups is vital to help boost this endangered population and highlights the urgent need for continued protections,” says Dr. Cara Field, our staff veterinarian, who was aboard NOAA’s research ship that brought these seals to back to the Main Hawaiian Islands.

These pups were unlikely to survive the winter without intervention. Of the approximately 1,400 monk seals left in the wild, nearly 30 percent are alive today because of these types of conservation efforts. That’s why continued funding and support for this work so important.

The NOAA Research Vessel Oscar Elton Sette set sail earlier this summer for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, where scientists found the distressed monk seal pups.

All four of the pups were weaned too young, leaving them too weak to catch fish on their own. In fact, all four pups were so small, researchers estimate they had less than 1 percent chance of survival on their own.

Once onboard the ship, the four pups underwent physical exams and received initial stabilizing treatment before being shuttled to Honolulu. From there they were quickly and safely transported via a U.S. Coast Guard aircraft to Ke Kai Ola, the hospital where they will stay throughout their rehabilitation.

“Our team is carefully monitoring the progress of all four patients. While the pups are definitely interested in fish, they are currently being tube-fed a fish-mash smoothie that includes multi-vitamins and electrolytes three times a day to help them get the nutrients they need to regain their strength,” says Megan McGinnis, our Animal Care Manager at Ke Kai Ola.

It’s clear that each one of the seals has a big personality, which plays a large role when it comes to choosing their names. The naming process is guided by a Kupuna, a highly respected elder within the Hawaiian community. As our cultural advisor, she visits our hospital to observe the patients and will use her wisdom and cultural expertise to choose the right names for our patients.

Meet Our New Patients:

  • Maka Kilo, for her curious and watchful eyes
  • Kaʻena, for the light within her will radiate one day
  • Leimana, for the way she is absorbed by the simple things she experiences
  • Hilinaʻi, for her attitude and charisma that creates a sense of well-being for the others
Hawaiian monk seal Maka Kilo

Maka Kilo

Hawaiian monk seal Leimana


Hawaiian monk seal Hilinaʻi


Hawaiian monk seal Kaena


For youngsters as thin as they are, each of the seals are bright, playful and sociable. Megan notes that two of the seals have been following each other around their shared pen. “The seals have been quite vocal and feisty from the start, which is a very encouraging sign!” Megan adds.

The opportunity to rehabilitate four female Hawaiian monk seals is encouraging for the future state of their population and researchers shared other encouraging news: our former patient RH38 was recently spotted looking healthy after her release on Kauaʻi.

You may recall that RH38 had two rehabilitation stints at our hospital. During her second rehabilitation, she was successfully treated for numerous serious medical ailments including trauma, pneumonia, an eye injury and multiple organ infections. She never would have survived without intervention.

Because of help from people like you, our work in Hawaiʻi is dedicated to the conservation of Hawaiian monk seals. This most recent sighting is significant because it demonstrates the long-term impact of this ongoing and collaborative work to save Hawaiian monk seals.

As RH38 and our newest patients mature and have pups of their own, monk seal experts hope this will improve the species’ chances of survival – especially in the face of recent roll-backs to legal protections safeguarding endangered and threatened species like them.

The efficient action and collaboration demonstrated by our partnership with NOAA and other cooperating agencies and support from caring people like you is now more important than ever to prevent this endangered species from becoming extinct.

You Can Be a Hawaiian Monk Seal Hero

You see, human activity has put the Hawaiian monk seals’ world in turmoil and is leading them toward extinction. But YOU can lend them a helping hand. You can make a real difference for this endangered species and all of the marine mammals in our care by giving today. 

Help a monk seal

Header image: photo © NOAA / NOAA permit #18786-03 

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species conservation
Cara Field
Megan McGinnis
Hawaiian Monk Seal