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Monk seals return to French Frigate Shoals

  • COURTESY THE MARINE MAMMAL CENTER

    Awapuhi, a female Hawaiian monk seal pup, ate a fish during rehabilitation at The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola hospital in Kona.

Two young Hawaiian monk seals returned to the French Frigate Shoals today after rehabilitation at Ke Kai Ola in Kona.

The Marine Mammal Center, which runs Ke Kai Ola, admitted Awapuhi and Koani pehu over the summer and were able to help the two seals gain enough weight and health to return home to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The center chose to release the seals in celebration of #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving celebrated the Tuesday following Thanksgiving.

“As we celebrate the release of these two patients on #GivingTuesday, we honor the spirit and importance of getting involved to make a difference in your community,” said Claire Simeone, the center’s conservation medicine veterinarian in a statement. “Giving this critically important species a second chance is at the heart of our mission and couldn’t be done without our passionate and dedicated volunteers as well as a generous community of supporters.”

The seals were rescued from Gin Island in the French Frigate Shoals over the summer. Awapuhi, a female pup that was weaned too early, was admitted to the center in June weighing about 30 pounds. Koani pehu (moon flower), a malnourished juvenile female, was admitted to the center in August. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research vessel picked both seals up and transported them to Ke Kai Ola.

Both were able to at least double their weight, according to Simeone, and were ready to return home. The U.S. Coast Guard transported the seals back to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands accompanied by NOAA Fisheries Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program vet Michelle Barbieri.

To date, Ke Kai Ola has rehabilitated 23 endangered monk seals since opening in 2014. The current population of Hawaiian monk seals is about 1,400. Ke Kai Ola also has a response team reachable via a 24-hour hotline for monk seal sightings on the Big Island at 808-987-0765.

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