Hawaiian monk seal found underweight on Moloka‘i in recovery at Kona’s marine mammal hospital
A Hawaiian monk seal is recovering at Kona’s marine mammal hospital after it was found on Moloka‘i underweight and lethargic.
A community member first reported RL68, a regular to Molokaʻi’s shores, on April 10 to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The 4-year-old female Hawaiian monk seal was observed losing a significant amount of weight and becoming less energetic over the past several weeks.
With input from Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration response team decided to bring RL68 in for a medical assessment.
“RL68 is a well-known seal that frequents west side beaches on Molokaʻi. But you never really know where a seal is going to be.” said Todd Yamashita, Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response’s Molokaʻi Community Programs Manager. “Imagine our surprise that RL68 – the seal we were looking for – was the first seal we spotted the day of the rescue operation! Being directly involved with helping one of our Molokaʻi seals, with the help of Molokaʻi HMAR volunteers who know and love these shorelines, that is the highlight of this experience.”
The team successfully rescued RL68, and on April 13, the U.S. Coast Guard transported her to the Ke Kai Ola Marine Mammal Center in Kailua-Kona. She is currently in stable condition.
When RL68 first arrived to Ke Kai Ola, Dr. Sophie Whoriskey, Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Veterinarian at The Marine Mammal Center, said the animal was in poor body condition and deteriorating quickly, making intervention necessary for her survival.
“For an endangered species like the Hawaiian monk seal, every patient matters,” Whoriskey said. “We are grateful to the community for their support and our partners for their rapid response ensuring the best chance for her to return to her ocean home.”
During the seal’s initial critical care period that included an admission exam, the Center’s veterinary team noted that RL68 was alert and actively exploring her rehabilitation pen. Animal care experts are providing her a hearty and calorie-rich diet of sustainably caught herring as well as fluids to help boost her nutritional status and hydration. RL68 is also being treated for gastroenteritis by providing supportive care including antacids and anti-nausea medication.
The Center’s veterinary team took a series of radiographs (X-rays) and performed an ultrasound exam to look for signs of internal trauma or other ailments. Experts also submitted a series of blood samples for diagnostic testing to check for signs of disease, which will take several weeks to process.
Since 2014, the center has rehabilitated and released 40 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.
Officials continue to advise the public to report sightings of Hawaiian monk seals to Ke Kai Ola’s 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.
The public should keep a safe distance of at least 50 feet from monk seals and at least 150 feet from monk seal mothers with pups.