3 rescued Hawaiian monk seals recovering at Big Island hospital

Three Hawaiian monk seals—two from Laysan Island and one from Molokai—are undergoing rehabilitation at The Marine Mammal Center’s specialized hospital in Kailua-Kona.

All three are doing well and on their way to recovery, according to Dr. Sophie Whoriskey, TMMC’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Veterinarian.

Two of the seals are malnourished pups that scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration brought back from Laysan Island at Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument last month.

One seal, WQ22, is a female pup, and the other, WQ08, is a male pup.

NOAA researchers examined the pups while conducting surveys at their seasonal field camps, and determined they were pre-weaned and needed help in order to survive the winter. NOAA transported them to Ke Kai Ola on May 24, where they are now playing together, and gaining weight.

The third seal, RP92, is a juvenile male rescued from Molokai.

The National Park Service reported that RP92 likely swallowed a fishing hook after he was seen with gear hanging out of his mouth on June 2. Officials were able to rescue the seal and transport him the next day to Ke Kai Ola,

Dr. Whoriskey said the team was able to use a special procedure to remove the circle hook from the seal’s larynx without performing surgery, but that it was still tricky.

RP92 was slightly underweight upon arrival at the hospital, but started eating after the hook was removed, and has gained close to 20 pounds.

NOAA recommends the use of barbless circle hooks, which cause less injury and are easier to remove.

When ready, all three pups will be returned to the wild.

“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 Whoriskey in a news release. “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.”

NOAA reported in May that the population of endangered Hawaiian monk seals reached a milestone, surpassing 1,500 for the first time in more than 20 years due, in part, to ongoing rehabilitation efforts.

TMMC is looking for more volunteers to help watch over monk seals and educate the public about them, particularly on Maui. To learn more, visit marinemammalcenter.org and click on “Get Involved.”

NOAA reminds the public to remain a safe distance from the seals while they are resting on shorelines — at least 50 feet for individual seals and 150 feet for mom-and-pup pairs. Sightings of monk seals or marine animals in distress can be reported to the NOAA hotline at 1-888-256-9840.

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