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2 Hawaiian Monk Seals Released to Wild After 2 Months at Ke Kai Ola

March 31, 2021, 4:15 PM HST
* Updated March 31, 3:48 PM
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Two endangered Hawaiian monk seals were released back to Kaua‘i and O‘ahu after rehabilitation at Ke Kai Ola Marine Mammal Center on the Big Island.

The two seals spent more than two months in rehabilitative care for malnutrition and other ailments. RK58, a juvenile male, had a more challenging recovery after suffering severe trauma wounds to the head, neck and left front flipper from a suspected dog attack on Kaua‘i.

During their treatment, the underweight seals greatly improved in overall body condition and stamina. Both animals experienced remarkable weight gains during their short stay, with Mele, a young female rescued on Oahu due to her poor condition, nearly doubling in weight.

“To return two Main Hawaiian Island seals back to their ocean home is an incredible success story with the survival of each individual critical to the recovery of the population,” says Dr. Cara Field, Medical Director at The Marine Mammal Center. “This success story highlights the importance of our ongoing partnerships to help give these animals a second chance at life and save this species.”

The successful release of RK58 and Mele was made possible thanks to the Center’s partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Coast Guard, Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), Hawaii Marine Animal Response (HMAR) and the Marine Mammal Response Network team on Kaua‘i.

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“We are so grateful that The Marine Mammal Center was able to immediately activate and provide the intensive care that these two patients needed,” says Dr. Michelle Barbieri, Lead Scientist for NOAA’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program. “Their return to the wild is important for the future of the species and we are glad that they are back home.”

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NOAA coordinated logistical and operational support for this extraordinary multi-island release in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Center. On Friday, March 26, the U.S. Coast Guard first flew RK58 to Kaua‘i and then Mele to Oahu via a C-130 aircraft, the safest and fastest mode of transport during the pandemic. Both animals were successfully released on the day of the transport.

Since 2014, the Center has rehabilitated and released 35 monk seals, most of which have been rescued from and returned to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) as part of the partnership with NOAA, utilizing resources in the NWHI to identify seals in need, rescue and rehabilitate them, and give them a second chance at life. The Center’s partnership with NOAA and other cooperating agencies is more important than ever to prevent this endangered species from becoming extinct. Approximately 30% of monk seals that are alive today are due to conservation efforts led by NOAA and partners like The Marine Mammal Center.

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.

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As an essential business operating during the ongoing pandemic, the Center is committed to continuing its core mission work that includes advancing the conservation of threatened and endangered species.

Video courtesy

First photo: RK58 by Sheila Latta The Marine Mammal Center, NOAA Permit #18786-03
Second photo: Mele by Credit Sheila Latta The Marine Mammal Center, NOAA Permit #18786-03
First video clip: RK58 release on Kaua‘i by Jamie Thomton, NOAA_NOAA Permit #18786-03
Second video clip Mele release on O‘ahu by Jamie Thomton, NOAA_NOAA Permit #18786-03

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