Hawaiian monk seals Mele and RK58 recently got a lift back to their home islands on Oahu and Kauai, thanks to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Last Friday, the Coast Guard helped National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration staff airlift the two young seals aboard a C-130 aircraft back to their home bases to release them back into the ocean.
Both had been under the care of Ke Kai Ola, the Hawaiian monk seal hospital run by The Marine Mammal Center in Kailua-Kona. After responding well to treatment, both had passed their physicals, allowing NOAA and its partners to coordinate their release.
“To return two Main Hawaiian Island seals back to their ocean home is an incredible success story with the survival of each individual critical to the recovery of the population,” said Dr. Cara Field, Medical Director at The Marine Mammal Center, in a news release. “This success story highlights the importance of our ongoing partnerships to help give these animals a second chance at life and save this species.”
Wildlife officials rescued Mele, a young female seal from Oahu, in early February, and took her to Ke Kai Ola because she appeared malnourished. About a week later, officials also rescued Hawaiian monk seal RK58, a young male seal on Kauai, after he was seen with injuries suspected to have come from a dog attack.
Vets at Ke Kai Ola found that RK58 suffered from infected puncture wounds to his head, neck and flipper, and a small bone fracture in his left, front flipper. He was also underweight.
Both seals were fed a steady diet during their time at the hospital, and their overall body condition improved — with Mele nearly doubling her weight.
Hawaiian monk seals, which are endemic, meaning only found in Hawaii, are a critically endangered species protected by state and federal laws.
“There’s only about 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals left on the planet,” said David Schofield, NOAA’s Pacific Islands stranding coordinator in a video, “so being able to rehabilitate them, get them back to health and then release them back to their natal island so they can contribute to the reproductive fitness of the population is of the utmost importance for the recovery of the species.”
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.
To report monk seal sightings and seals in distress, call NOAA’s statewide hotline at 888-256-9840.