Hawaiian monk seal treated for 5 months at Ke Kai Ola in Kona released back into wild
A Hawaiian monk seal was returned to its home in Kaua‘i waters after five months of treatment at the Kona mammal hospital for kidney stones, possible pneumonia and a fractured canine tooth that had become infected.
The 7-year-old female seal, known as RH38, was initially seen by volunteers and community members in waters around the Garden Isle acting abnormally lethargic in June. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources were contacted.
After observing the animal for a week, a team involving NOAA, the state and community volunteers rescued RH38 and transported her to The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola Hawaiian monk seal hospital on Hawaiʻi Island.
The center’s team initially discovered RH38 was suffering from kidney stones and possibly pneumonia. But as treatment continued, RH38’s behavior didn’t fully improve.
After performing a CT scan in August by experts at Kona Community Hospital, it revealed a large fractured canine tooth that became infected.
The center was able to successfully remove RH38’s fractured tooth and treat the infection. This care, along with treatment for her other issues, helped the seal steadily improve to the point she was medically cleared for release, according to a Marine Mammal Center press release.
“We’re ecstatic to give an animal that’s so dear to our hearts, like RH38, another chance in the wild. Every seal matters for an endangered population,” says Dr. Sophie Whoriskey, Associate Director, Hawaiʻi Conservation Medicine at The Marine Mammal Center. “It was clear during her treatment that her tooth fracture, and the associated infection, was the primary cause of her inability to thrive in the wild and we’re confident this won’t impact her anymore.”
As the mammal hospital planned for RH38’s release with the U.S. Coast Guard, the seal started displaying stress-related behaviors, including biting at her tail.
RH38 had already passed a release exam and timing worked out so that the center’s team and partners at NOAA and Coast Guard were able to coordinate an immediate release in the best interest of her health. On Nov. 14, the center’s team met with the Coast Guard crew members at Kona International Airport to help load RH38 onto a C-130 aircraft for release back to Kauaʻi.
On Kauaʻi, the team of NOAA, DLNR, volunteer and community members welcomed and released RH38 back into her ocean home. She has since been swimming and traveling around Kauaʻi like a normal, healthy seal.
“This has truly been a monk seal ‘ohana (family) effort,” said Jamie Thomton, NOAA’s Kauaʻi Marine Wildlife Response Coordinator. “RH38’s homecoming was a collective effort, and we especially want to thank our Kauaʻi volunteers and community members. They’ve helped monitor RH38 over the years, and their reports earlier this year alerted us that something was wrong. Our Kauaʻi team came together to rescue her, and with the partnership of the Center and U.S. Coast Guard, RH38 was successfully rehabilitated and released back to her Kauaʻi home.”
RH38 has been treated at Ke Kai Ola in the past. In 2017, she was brought in for malnutrition and gastrointestinal parasites. She was released in good health and came back in 2019 with several health concerns, including severe traumatic myositis (muscle inflammation) that was diagnosed on CT scan, septicemic infection, kidney stones in both kidneys, urinary tract infection and presumed pneumonia.