Rescued Monk Seals Returned to Marine Sanctuary
Two Hawaiian monk seals were rescued and returned to the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument at Kure Atoll March 25, after being rehabilitated for five months in Kona.
The endangered young females were found in poor health last year, one on Kure Atoll and another at Laysan Island, northwest of the Hawaiian Islands. Nicknamed Pua and Mele, the pair were brought by an NOAA ship to The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital in Kona last September. Staff and volunteers spent five months nursing the pair back to health.
Dr. Rachel Sprague, NOAA Fisheries’ Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Coordinator, said the rehabilitation and release of the endangered seals showed the collaboration that is needed to save them from extinction.
“The dedicated efforts displayed by NOAA, The Marine Mammal Center, U.S. Coast Guard, State of Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show how it will take every one of us to help protect these extraordinary animals. 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,” said Dr. Sprague.
On March 18, the rehabilitated seals were flown from Kona aboard a U.S. Coast Guard HC-130 aircraft to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Two days later, they departed on the supply ship “Kahana” bound for Kure Atoll State Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary is located at the northernmost point of the Hawaiian archipelago, 1,350 miles northwest of Honolulu.
The seals were cared for by scientists from NOAA Fisheries, and The Marine Mammal Center during transport and at Midway Atoll. They arrived at Kure Atoll on March 21, and were monitored by biologists until their release on March 25.
Hawaiian monk seals are critically endangered, with less than 1,100 surviving in the wild. Less than one in five seal pups in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands live through their first year due to starvation, entanglement in marine debris, male aggression attributed to abnormally small populations, and other causes.