Marine Mammal Center Takes in Malnourished Hawaiian Monk Seal
The Marine Mammal Center, the world’s largest marine mammal hospital, admitted an endangered monk seal at its hospital and visitor center in Kailua-Kona.
The team from Hawai‘i Marine Animal Response (HMAR) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) researchers were monitoring Mele on O‘ahu and nearby islets since mid-November due to her poor body condition, unusual for a main Hawaiian Islands seal. NOAA experts decided to rescue and transport the seal directly to The Marine Mammal Center where veterinarians could stabilize her, look for underlying conditions that might explain her body condition, and provide long-term rehabilitative care.
“With only a few hundred monk seals living in the Main Hawaiian Islands, the survival of each individual is critical to the recovery of the population,” said Sophie Whoriskey, Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Veterinarian at The Marine Mammal Center. “Conservation takes a village. We are so grateful to our partners for their support in achieving our mission, and ensuring this animal has a second chance at life.”
Mele was airlifted on Feb. 7 and transferred to the Center for further rehabilitation via a US Coast Guard C-130 aircraft.
“It’s always a pleasure to work with NOAA and The Marine Mammal Center, especially when it comes to protecting endangered species. Mele was a great passenger, and we are happy to have helped,” said Lt. Andrew Lucak, Coast Guard HC-130 search plane pilot, Air Station Barbers Point.
During her initial critical care period, Center experts noted that Mele was moderately malnourished but is alert and active. The Center’s veterinary team also took a series of blood samples and plan to start the animal on deworming medication to help spur future weight gain.
“Mele has been feisty and extremely vocal since her arrival, which is a really positive sign for a young juvenile seal,” Whoriskey said. “She has already started to feed on sustainably-caught herring and our team plans to introduce her to offers of live fish to help further spur her appetite and get the vital nutrients she needs.”
In recent weeks the Center’s experts have reported a sharp uptick in the number of beachgoers on the Big Island as COVID-19-related travel restrictions have eased. This increase in the amount of foot traffic on local beaches comes as endangered monk seals that frequent the islands seek areas to come ashore to rest.
The Center’s experts ask that beachgoers proceed with caution and look out for posted signage about resting seals. As a member of the Pacific Islands Region Marine Mammal Response Network, the Center is responsible for monitoring the seals that haul out or spend time on land, on Hawai‘i Island.
The successful rescue of Mele, a young female seal, was made possible thanks to the Center’s partnership with the NOAA, US Coast Guard and HMAR team. As an essential business operating during the ongoing pandemic, the Center is committed to continuing its core mission work that includes conservation of threatened and endangered species.