Three Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal Pups Admitted to Ke Kai Ola
Just a few weeks after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that the Hawaiian monk seal population has grown to more than 1,500 individuals for the first time in more than 20 years, The Marine Mammal Center has admitted three seals to Ke Kai Ola, the Center’s hospital and visitor center in Kailua-Kona that is dedicated to the endangered marine mammal.
The successful rescues, made in partnership with NOAA and other partner agencies, demonstrates the urgent need to maintain regulatory protections and fund continued conservation efforts to help save the species.
“Treating three young seals that were unlikely to survive the coming months without intervention, including one due to fishing gear interaction, are critical examples of why our work matters,” says Dr. Sophie Whoriskey, Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Veterinarian at The Marine Mammal Center, who helped oversee their rescue and initial care.
As the only partner organization permitted by NOAA to treat and rehabilitate Hawaiian monk seals, we’re proud that nearly 30 percent of monk seals that are alive today are due to conservation efforts led by NOAA and partners like The Marine Mammal Center.
Last month, scientists aboard the NOAA Research Vessel Oscar Elton Sette performed physical exams and initial treatment on the two seals rescued from Laysan Island (Kamole). NOAA scientists rescued these two pups while deploying seasonal field camps to conduct monk seal research in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The research ship shuttled the pups to Kona and from there they were quickly transported to Ke Kai Ola for treatment on May 24.
As soon as we found the two pups at Kamole, we knew they needed help to survive.
“As soon as we found the two pups at Kamole, we knew they needed help to survive,” said Dr. Michelle Barbieri, Lead Scientist for NOAA’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program. “We monitored them around-the-clock while they were in transport on the ship. We look forward to providing transport on their return to Papahānaumokuākea too, so that they can hopefully produce pups of their own someday.”
The two seals, WQ22, a female pup, and WQ08, a male pup, both weaned early at a small size and were unlikely to survive the winter season due to their poor body condition.
Both are following a strict treatment regime, including oral multivitamins and electrolytes added to their daily tube feedings to help boost hydration. WQ22 is already eating well on her own, and WQ08 is taking positive steps toward eating offers of sustainably caught fish as well. The Center’s veterinary team also took a series of blood samples to check for signs of disease including toxoplasmosis.
Shortly after WQ22 and WQ08’s arrival to Ke Kai Ola, the Center admitted a third seal, a hooked patient, RP92, thanks to a rescue effort led by the National Park Service on Moloka‘i.
The Park Service first alerted NOAA and The Marine Mammal Center of a seal in distress on June 2 and noted the presence of fishing gear hanging from its mouth, an indication of likely gear ingestion. After the successful rescue, NOAA provided basic triage care and coordinated next-day transport to Kona for comprehensive assessment and treatment at Ke Kai Ola.
During the seal’s initial critical care period, Center experts stabilized the animal before performing a successful procedure to remove an ingested hook near the animal’s larynx. During the procedure, the team also took a series of blood samples and a fecal sample for further analysis.
The Center’s veterinary team notes that RP92 is slightly underweight but is already eating well post-procedure, a hopeful sign for the animal’s recovery.
Since 2014, the Center has rehabilitated and released 37 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.
The public should keep a safe distance from monk seals and report sightings to the Center’s response team via 24-hour hotline: on Hawai‘i Island at 808-987-0765 and on Maui at 808-292-2372.
Report hooked, stranded, or entangled monk seals to the NOAA Fisheries statewide toll-free hotline at 1-888-256-9840. NOAA Fisheries also recommends these best practices to reduce injuries to monk seals when fishing.
The Marine Mammal Center is recruiting new volunteers for our operations on Hawai‘i Island and Maui. Learn more about volunteering and submit an application by July 7.
Our Hawaiian monk seal conservation volunteers play an integral role in helping us save this endangered species by monitoring and identifying seals that may require rescue and rehabilitation.
“Our Hawaiian monk seal conservation volunteers play an integral role in helping us save this endangered species by monitoring and identifying seals that may require rescue and rehabilitation,” says Lauren Van Heukelem, the Center’s response and operations coordinator. “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.”
The Center values volunteer engagement and inclusivity, and is proud to welcome existing and new volunteers into its ohana to create an even more robust and diverse community of volunteers.
Header image: photo by Sophie Whoriskey © The Marine Mammal Center / NOAA permit #18786
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