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3 Hawaiian Monk Seals Rescued, Admitted to Ke Kai Ola for Care

June 15, 2022, 8:23 AM HST
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Two underweight Hawaiian monk seal pups and and a third seal that had ingested fishing gear are currently being treated at Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola facility in Kailua-Kona.

The two pups, WQ22, a female, and WQ08, a male, were found in May by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists who were deployed to the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument to conduct monk seal research.

“The two seals, both weaned early at a small size and were unlikely to survive the winter season due to their poor body condition,” according to a press release from the Marine Mammal Center on Wednesday.

Scientists aboard the NOAA Research Vessel Oscar Elton Sette performed physical exams and initial treatment on the two seals from Laysan Island (Kamole). 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,” said 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.”

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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. The Center’s veterinary team also took a series of blood samples to check for signs of disease including toxoplasmosis.

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Not long after the pups were admitted, Ke Kai Ola also took in a seal rescued on Moloka‘i by the National Park Service.

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, the release stated. 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 swabs for further analysis.

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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.

“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,” said 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.”

These rescues come a few weeks after NOAA announced the Hawaiian monk seal population has grown to more than 1,500 individuals for the first time in more than 20 years.

Since 2014, the Marine Mammal 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 release stated.

The public should keep a distance of at least 50 feet 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 statewide NOAA Fisheries Marine Wildlife Hotline at 1-888-256-9840. NOAA Fisheries also recommends these best practices to reduce injuries to monk seals when fishing.

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