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Ten ways we can help monk seals

by NOAA Fisheries 17 Dec 2018 10:27 UTC
A juvenile Hawaiian monk seal with an eel in its nose © NOAA Fisheries / Brittany Dolan, Permit #16632-02

Hawaiian monk seals often find themselves in difficult situations, and our staff works hard to prevent and reduce threats to this highly-endangered species.

While eel removals are rare, did you know that there are lots of other ways that we protect and save Hawaiian monk seals? All of these individual rescues can add up to saving a species: research shows that 32% of the current Hawaiian monk seal population is alive today because of medical and rescue interventions. Here are some examples:

1. We treat injuries

Interactions with other seals, or other animals such as sharks, can cause bite wounds and abscesses. We treat injuries by draining and cleaning the wounds as well as administering antibiotic drugs. And yes, sometimes we even remove eels from noses!

2. We remove fishing hooks

Fishing gear and hooks are a frequent threat to Hawaiian monk seals. Sometimes, when seals get "hooked," we can remove fishing hooks right away on the beach. Other times, it requires anesthesia or even abdominal surgery.

3. We vaccinate seals

We use a pole syringe to vaccinate seals against morbillivirus (distemper) in order to prevent an outbreak from devastating the population.

4. We remove marine debris

Seals are curious and will investigate unfamiliar objects such as floating debris and trash. We disentangle seals and other wildlife whenever we find them caught in debris.

5. We free trapped seals

Hawaiian monk seals and other wildlife are often trapped behind an aging sea wall at Tern Island, French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Researchers catch trapped seals and carry them to freedom at open beaches.

6. We relocate pups

Several pupping beaches at French Frigate Shoals are regularly patrolled by Galapagos sharks. We transport pups to safer areas, away from sharks, after they wean from their mothers.

7. We rescue and rehabilitate seals

Together with our partners at The Marine Mammal Center's Ke Kai Ola monk seal hospital, we rescue and rehabilitate seals suffering from malnutrition and disease.

8. We reunite pups and mothers

Several times each year, pups get separated from their mothers or mothers switch pups. If a pup is separated from its mother or a switch is potentially life-threatening, we attempt to reunite the pup with its mom.

9. We provide medicine

We give deworming medications to juvenile seals to help them put more of the calories they consume into growth and weight gain.

10. We share the shore

We provide outreach and educational opportunities to help the public learn how to coexist with monk seals on public beaches and reduce the impacts of human disturbance.

What can you do?

    1. Keep beaches clean.
    2. Reduce, reuse, recycle.
    3. Keep seals wild—give them space.
    4. When fishing, pull your fishing line in until the seal leaves the area.
    5. Keep cats exclusively indoors. Cats that live outdoors spread the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, which is lethal to monk seals and other native wildlife.
    6. Vaccinate your pets and keep dogs leashed at all times. Dogs have injured and even killed monk seals through attacks and bites, and they can disturb seals resting on the beach. They can also transmit diseases to seals.
    7. Promote healthy oceans.
    8. Share your enthusiasm and educate others.

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