A young Hawaiian monk seal prematurely weaned from her mother has returned to Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument after care at a specialized hospital in Kailua-Kona.
The Marine Mammal Center said that ‘Eleu, who spent more than two months at Ke Kai Ola, the monk seal hospital on Hawaii island, returned in mid-September to Lisianski Island, or Kapou, at Papahanaumokuakea.
Monk seal researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration initially rescued ‘Eleu from Lisianski in June as a malnourished and prematurely weaned pup and brought her to Ke Kai Ola.
During her time there, she quickly gained more than 90 pounds, nearly tripling her overall weight, and improved her body condition and stamina.
NOAA brought ‘Eleu back to Lisianski aboard the research vessel Oscar Elton Sette during a Sept. 10 trip bringing scientists and supplies to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands at Papahanaumokuakea. Prior to her release, NOAA attached a temporary satellite tag on her which will allow them to monitor her movements.
‘Eleu is actually one of more than 36 monk seals that the center has rehabilitated and released since opening in Kona in 2014 as part of a partnership with NOAA as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Coast Guard. Most, but not all, are from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
“To return a young female pup back to the wild that had nearly zero chance of survival without intervention is an incredible success story,” says Dr. Sophie Whoriskey, the center’s Hawaiian monk seal conservation veterinarian, in a news release. “As an endangered species, each monk seal matters, and this case highlights the importance of our ongoing partnerships to help treat and return them back to their ocean home.”
Hawaiian monk seals are a critically endangered species, with only about 1,400 remaining in the wild – about 1,100 in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and 300 in the main Hawaiian Islands.
They are protected federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act. They are also protected under Hawaii law, which considers harassment of a Hawaiian monk seal a Class C felony punishable by imprisonment and fines.
Officials remind the public to keep a safe distance from monk seals resting on shorelines or in the water, particularly mom-and-pup pairs.
Sightings of monk seals statewide can be reported to NOAA’s hotline at (888) 256-9840. On the island of Hawaii, they can be reported to the center’s response team at (808) 987-0765.