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2 Hawaiian monk seals released back to Laysan Island after stay at Big Isle hospital

  • Video courtesy The Marine Mammal Center

    Two Hawaiian monk seals are back home on Laysan Island at Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

  • COURTESY ELENA GRAHAM/THE MARINE MAMMAL CENTER

    Hawaiian monk seal ‘Akulikuli attempts to climb out of a pool during rehabilitation at Ke Kai Ola.

  • COURTESY BRENDA BECKER/THE MARINE MAMMAL CENTER

    Hawaiian monk seals Maiapilo, top, and ‘Ākulikuli, bottom, returned back to Laysan Island after rehabilitation at Ke Kai Ola.

  • COURTESY THE MARINE MAMMAL CENTER

    Hawaiian monk seals Maiapilo and ‘Akulikuli explored the waters off Laysan Island moments after their release back to the wild.

Two Hawaiian monk seals are back home on Laysan Island at Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument after more than six months of growth and rehabilitation at an animal hospital in Kailua-Kona.

Maiapilo, a female, and ‘Akulikuli, a male, are both doing well back at Papahanaumokuakea, where they were first discovered as prematurely weaned pups.

Both seals were fitted with new satellite tags to help researchers monitor them post-release. Maiapilo has been traveling around the atoll, while ‘Akulikuli has stayed near shore.

Kai Kai Ola, The Marine Mammal Center’s monk seal hospital in Kailua-Kona, works with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers to find malnourished pups and rehabilitate them before returning them to the wild.

“Both Maiapilo and ‘Akulikuli were prematurely weaned pups that would have died without intervention,” said Claire Simeone, Ke Kai Ola’s hospital director. “For endangered species in particular, every individual is critical so we are thrilled that they have learned the skills needed to successfully forage and have a second chance at life to help boost the monk seal population.”

Maiapilo and ‘Akulikuli were picked up last September and returned to Laysan aboard NOAA’s research vessel, the Oscar Elton Sette, which sets out on an expedition to Papahanaumokuakea every spring so researchers can monitor wildlife and clean marine debris.

Both seals have been frequently sighted by field campers stationed on Laysan Island.

At Ke Kai Ola, Maiapilo gained a remarkable 220 pounds, while ‘Akulikuli, who was also treated for a mouth ulcer and facial lacerations, gained more than 125 pounds.

Since opening in 2014, Ke Kai Ola has rehabilitated 27 monk seals.

Another monk seal from Kauai, RH38, remains in rehabilitation at Ke Kai Ola. She was diagnosed in late April with muscle damage due to an unknown trauma, which led to widespread infection and organ damage. RH38 recently began molting, said Ke Kai Ola, an important sign that her body condition is improving and resuming natural functions.

Hawaiian monk seals are a critically endangered species protected by federal and state laws, with an estimated population of 1,400 remaining in the wild. While most reside at Papahanaumokuakea, a growing number are giving birth to pups in the main Hawaiian islands. The public is advised to enjoy Hawaiian monk seals from a distance, particularly moms and pups.

Sightings of monk seals on Hawaii island can be reported to the center’s response team at 987-0765. On other islands, call NOAA’s statewide, toll-free hotline at 1-888-256-9840.

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