Wildlife officials have rescued a juvenile monk seal injured by a suspected dog attack on Kauai, and taken it to Ke Kai Ola in Kailua-Kona for recovery.
Hawaiian monk seal, RK58, was admitted Feb. 16 to The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola, a hospital for the endangered seals, where he is receiving treatment for infected puncture wounds to his head, neck and flipper.
In addition to being underweight and lethargic, veterinarians also found that RK58 suffered from a small bone fracture in his left, front flipper.
NOAA’s Kauai marine mammal response program coordinator Jamie Thomton said RK58’s puncture wounds are most likely the result of a dog attack. He was in rough shape, with a swollen head, upon his arrival, and after a thorough assessment, it was also clear he was struggling to recover from his injuries.
“Rapid action is critical in these unique situations in order to provide seals like RK58 a second chance at life,” said Dr. Sophie Whoriskey, the center’s Hawaiian monk seal conservation veterinarian, in a news release. “We are grateful to our responding partners for their quick actions as the survival of each individual is critical to the recovery of this endangered population.”
The young seal is the second endangered monk seal in the state to be rescued and treated at the Big Isle hospital this month. It is also RK58’s second time at Ke Kai Ola — he was also admitted in 2018 when he was prematurely weaned from his mom, Rocky, due to an accidental pup switch.
RK58 joins Mele, a young, female seal that was flown from Oahu to Ke Kai Ola for treatment earlier this month after a team of researchers and volunteers saw her in a malnourished state.
Mele is recovering well, and her appetite has greatly improved after deworming medication, according to the center. RK58 has been given antibiotics and fluids, and seems to be responding well to treatments.
Although the two seals are currently being kept in separate rehabilitative pool pens, they may be able to play and interact with one another, once quarantines are completed and they are in stable condition.
The Center teamed up with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Marine Mammal Response Network team on Kauai to coordinate the rescue. The U.S. Coast Guard provided transport via its C-130 aircraft.
“We are so grateful for the partnerships that allowed him to be rapidly rescued, transported and treated and we ask the public to please keep their dogs on leash while at the beach,” Thomton said.
Hawaiian monk seals are a critically endangered species protected by state and federal laws, with only about 1,400 remaining in the wild. Officials estimate that about 30% of monk seals are alive today as a result of conservation efforts led by NOAA and The Marine Mammal Center.
Wildlife officials say RK58’s story is an important reminder for beachgoers to keep themselves and their pets a safe distance from resting monk seals — and to keep their dogs on a leash according to state laws.
Monk seal sightings on Hawaii island can be reported to the center’s response team at 987-0765. On Oahu and other islands, report monk seal sightings to NOAA’s statewide hotline at 888-256-9840.