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Hawaiian monk seal recovering from disease on Big Island

  • COURTESY COAST GUARD
                                Personnel from the Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and The Marine Mammal Center transport a rehabilitated monk seal, Pohaku, from Oahu to Kona aboard an HC-130 Hercules airplane. Pohaku is being treated for toxoplasmosis.

    COURTESY COAST GUARD

    Personnel from the Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and The Marine Mammal Center transport a rehabilitated monk seal, Pohaku, from Oahu to Kona aboard an HC-130 Hercules airplane. Pohaku is being treated for toxoplasmosis.

  • COURTESY HAWAII MARINE ANIMAL RESPONSE
                                Pohaku, pictured here before she became sick from toxoplasmosis, remains in stable, but guarded condition at Ke Kai Ola in Kona.

    COURTESY HAWAII MARINE ANIMAL RESPONSE

    Pohaku, pictured here before she became sick from toxoplasmosis, remains in stable, but guarded condition at Ke Kai Ola in Kona.

Pohaku, a female Hawaiian monk seal suffering from toxoplasmosis, remains in stable, but guarded condition a week after she was moved from Oahu to Kona.

The U.S. Coast Guard last week transported Pohaku aboard an HC-130 Hercules airplane to Ke Kai Ola, a Hawaiian monk seal hospital run by The Marine Mammal Center in Kailua-Kona.

Pohaku, or RO28, was first taken in Jan. 22 by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials for intensive care at Ford Island after a volunteer saw her floating lethargically off Ko Olina a few days earlier and called to report it.

She was diagnosed with toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease spread primarily through cat feces, and considered one of the three largest threats to the endangered seals. Her condition slowly improved, and she was transferred to Ke Kai Ola for long-term care.

“Toxoplasmosis is a complex disease that requires daily management for an affected Hawaiian monk seal,” said Megan McGinnis, animal care program manager at Ke Kai Ola. “Pohaku’s prognosis remains guarded but our team is dedicated to providing the best quality care for this endangered patient.”

Pohaku was actually one of two monk seals infected with toxoplasmosis in January. The other one, a young, juvenile monk seal named Sole, was found dead on the shores of Laie, and determined to have suffered from toxoplasmosis following a necropsy. Sole was the 12th monk seal to have died from toxoplasmosis in Hawaii.

She has so far survived longer than any other monk seal diagnosed with the disease, NOAA officials said.

The Coast Guard has had a 13-year partnership with NOAA to transport the monk seals across the isles, including to and from the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. On average, the Coast Guard transports six marine mammals per year in conjunction with training.

Pohaku joins four other monk seals from the Northwestern Hawaiian islands that are already at Ke Kai Ola, but will remain in a separate pen due to her weak and lethargic state.

Sightings of sick or injured monk seals can be reported to NOAA’s hotline at 888-256-9840.

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