Hawaiian monk seal has eel removed from nose



    A juvenile Hawaiian monk seal was spotted with a spotted eel on his nose at French Frigate Shoals in the northwestern islands of Hawaii last summer.

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A Hawaiian monk seal with an eel coming out of the nose?

On Monday, the Hawaiian Monge Seal Research Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association posted on its Facebook page a photo of a juvenile seal monk with what appears to be an eel painted on his nose.

"Mondays … may not have been good for you, but it must have been better than a nose eel," the post said. "We reported this phenomenon before being first noticed a few years ago. We now find juvenile seals with eels pinned to their noses on several occasions. In all cases, the eel was successfully removed and the seals were fine. The eels, however, failed.

Monk seal researcher Charles Littnan, division director of the protected species division, said this is the third or fourth case scientists have observed from a seal with an eel in the nose.

"What's interesting is that in the almost 40 years we've been monitoring and retaining, we've only begun to see this in the last few years," he said in an e-mail. "We do not know if this is just a strange statistical anomaly or something we'll see more in the future."

How did this happen?

The Hawaiian monk isolates fodder by pushing his mouth and nose into the cracks of coral reefs, under rocks or in the sand, he said, in search of preys that like to hide like eels.

"This may be a case of an eel that was trapped trying to defend itself or escape," he said. "Alternatively, the seal could have swallowed the eel and regurgitated for the eel to get out of the wrong way. We may never know.

Fortunately, no damage to the seals was observed.

"All the seals we found in this slippery situation were quickly captured by our response teams and the gentle eel was successfully removed," he wrote. "All the seals were released and showed no problem from the incidents."

Hawaiian monk seals are a critically endangered species found only in Hawaii and protected by state and federal laws. Only about 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals remain in the wild, with most residing on the northwestern islands of Hawaii.

Anyone who encounters a Hawaiian monk seal that appears to be in danger may call the NOAA hotline at (888) 256-9840.


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