After rescue on Oahu, Mele the monk seal heads to Big Isle for care

Nina Wu, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
·2 min read

Feb. 18—Ke Kai Ola, The Marine Mammal Center's monk seal hospital in Kailua-Kona, has a new patient in its charge.

Mele, a malnourished, young female seal, is now under Ke Kai Ola's care after wildlife officials spotted her around Oahu waters in poor body condition.

A team of researchers and volunteers had been monitoring Mele since mid-November. Monk seal experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration eventually decided it was best to take her to Ke Kai Ola so veterinarians could check her out and provide rehabilitative care.

With help from the U.S. Coast Guard, Mele was airlifted on Feb. 7 from Oahu to Hawaii island via a C-130 aircraft.

"With only a few hundred monk seals living in the Main Hawaiian Islands, the survival of each individual is critical to the recovery of the population, " says Dr. Sophie Whoriskey, Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Veterinarian, in a news release. "Conservation takes a village. We are so grateful to our partners for their support in achieving our mission, and ensuring this animal has a second chance at life."

Although she was malnourished upon arrival, Mele was still alert and active, officials said.

"Mele has been feisty and extremely vocal since her arrival, which is a really positive sign for a young juvenile seal, " said Whoriskey. "She has already started to feed on sustainably-caught herring and our team plans to introduce her to offers of live fish to help further spur her appetite and get the vital nutrients she needs."

Hawaiian monk seals are a critically endangered species, with only about 1, 400 remaining in the wild.

Ke Kai Ola is considered an essential business during the ongoing pandemic, and remains committed to continuing its core mission, which includes the conservation of threatened and endangered species. Since 2014, the center has rehabilitated and released 33 monk seals, mostly from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as part of its partnership with NOAA.

As travel restrictions have eased, more humans may be encountering Hawaiian monk seals that have hauled up on shorelines to rest or nurse their pups. The public should observe the seals from a respectful distance of at least 50 feet, and at least 150 feet if it is a mom and pup.

Sightings of monk seals on Hawaii island can be reported to the center's response team at (808 ) 987-0765. On Oahu and other islands, report monk seal sightings to NOAA's statewide hotline at (888 ) 256-9840.