Four malnourished monk seals rescued from Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

Hawaiian monk seal WH10 plays with marine debris on Laysan. (Photo: NMFS/NOAA permit 16632)

Four Hawaiian monk seals are recovering on Hawaii Island after being rescued from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

During a routine mission to survey the monk seal population, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spotted four malnourished animals and brought them to the Marine Mammal Center’s monk seal hospital in Kona.

Officials say two are pups that were weaned too early. One is a yearling, and the other is an extremely underweight 5-year-old.

“These animals will get around the clock care and monitoring. One of them is in critical condition. The others seem to be stable at this point, and they’re doing well and adjusting,” said Michelle Barbieri, wildlife veterinary medical officer, NOAA Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program. “We will basically be providing them with supportive care, nutrition, medication, and anything else that they may need over the course of several months that they’ll be with us.”

Hawaiian monk seals, which have been on the decline for decades, have a current population of about 1,300 individuals.

Researchers say young seals are the most vulnerable animals in the population with relatively few surviving to adulthood. Pups and juvenile seals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands often fall victim to threats like entanglement in ocean trash, changes in the food chain and predation.

Once the animals are better, they will be returned to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

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