COURTESY NOAA / BRITTANY DOLAN
A juvenile Hawaiian monk seal was spotted with a spotted eel in its nose at French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands this past summer.
A Hawaiian monk seal with an eel coming out of its nose?
On Monday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program posted to its Facebook page a photo of a juvenile monk seal with what appears to be a spotted eel in its nose.
“Mondays…it might not have been a good one for you but it had to have been better than an eel in your nose,” said the post. “We have reported on this phenomenon before which was first noted a few years back. We have now found juvenile seals with eels stuck in their noses on multiple occasions. In all cases the eel was successfully removed and the seals were fine. The eels, however, did not make it.”
Monk seal researcher Charles Littnan, division director of the protected species division, said this is the third or fourth case scientists have observed of a seal with an eel in its nose.
“What is interesting that in the nearly 40 years we have been monitoring and conserving we have only started seeing this in the last few years,” he said in an e-mail. “We don’t know if this is just some strange statistical anomaly or something we will see more of in the future.”
How did it happen?
Hawaiian monk seals forage by shoving their mouth and nose into the crevasses of coral reefs, under rocks, or into the sand, he said, in search of prey that like to hide, such as eels.
“This may be a case of an eel that was cornered trying to defend itself or escape,” he said. “Alternatively, the seal could have swallowed the eel and regurgitated it so that the eel came out the wrong way. We might not ever know.”
Fortunately, no harm to the seals was observed.
“All of the seals that we have encountered in this slippery situation have been quickly caught by our response teams and the eel gently and successfully removed,” he wrote. “All the seals were released and haven’t shown any issues from the incidents.”
Hawaiian monk seals are a critically endangered species found only in Hawaii, and are protected by both state and federal laws. Only about 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals remain in the wild, with the majority residing in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Anyone who comes across a Hawaiian monk seal that appears to be in distress can call NOAA’s hotline at (888) 256-9840.