When field biologists were searching for Hawaiian monk seals on the beaches of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands early this year, they took a second take. They were taken aback when they noticed a seal with an eel hanging out of her snout.
Jessica Bohlander, a research marine scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program, told The Dodo that her colleagues were “certainly astonished.”
The shot of the eel in a seal was taken by NOAA field scientist Brittany Dolan, and the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program shared it on its Facebook page last Monday — and it’s gotten the internet buzzing.
Bohlander said she put down the camera after Dolan snapped the photo so she and NOAA field scientist Allie Northey could figure out how to pull the eel out of the seal’s snout.
Despite their extensive training on how to appropriately treat distressed seals, Dolan and Northey sought advice from their staff veterinarian before attempting an eel extraction.
Bohlander stated, “The eel was dead.” “They have to survive in the water, thus the seal perished when it came to the surface. The tough thing is that you must remove the entire eel; else, you risk causing further complications.”
Dolan and Northey devised a strategy: one of the ladies snuck up behind the young seal and confined her while the other took out the eel. The eel was successfully extracted after roughly a minute of seal wrestling.
They returned the seal to the shore, where she is doing nicely.
These scientists, according to Bohlander, take extreme measures. She explained, “You want to make sure the seal and the individuals are protected.” “You don’t want to limit the seal’s breathing, and the animal won’t like it.” You certainly don’t want to be bitten. We only have folks with a lot of expertise doing this.”
This is the fourth occasion in recent years that NOAA investigators have discovered an eel dangling from the nose of a Hawaiian monk seal. It’s unclear exactly how this occurs.
“Recently, it’s been a new phenomena,” Bohlander added. “We believe the seal ate the eel, then sneezed or regurgitated it at an inopportune time, causing it to become lodged.”
One thing experts are certain of is that eels caught in seals’ snouts endanger their life. “It limits their capacity to breathe and dive,” Bohlander explained. “They seal their noses to eat as they dive.” As a result, it’s something you should absolutely deal with.”
However, while eel interactions are harmful, they are not one of the reasons Hawaiian monk seals are listed as endangered.
NOAA researchers race to help Hawaiian monk seals trapped in nets, injured by fishing hooks, and stuck in debris thrown into the water in this video.
Scientists also aid the species by immunizing seals against viruses and transporting damaged seals to rehabilitation facilities.
People may support the seals in a variety of ways, according to Bohlander. “Leave the seals alone.” “Don’t rush up to them to snap selfies,” she said. “Maintain the cleanliness of the beaches. Because they’re so interested, they’ll engage with whatever they come across, including fishing hooks, debris, and food.”
According to the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program, the population of seals is beginning to stabilize after years of labor.
“There’s still a long way to go, but the trend is encouraging.” It demonstrates that these approaches are effective. “We’re having an immediate impact,” Bohlander added. “It’s really wonderful to conduct an intervention like this, release the seal back into the wild, and then find them later and realize they’re doing fine.”
If you encounter a seal in distress anyplace, don’t try to approach it yourself; you and the seal might both be injured. You may phone marine animal rescue hotlines in most coastal municipalities, or the local police can point you in the right direction.