LIHUE — Fat and molting, Kauai’s yearling Hawaiian Monk Seal RH38 has returned to Kauai waters after spending two months at Ke Kai Ola, a dedicated Marine Mammal Center hospital for monk seals on Hawaii Island.
“Since she’s been back, she’s been sighted every day and she’s doing well and interacting with other seals,” said Claire Simeone, the Marine Mammal Center’s conservation medicine veterinarian, who did RH38’s exit examination.
RH38 was spotted in poor condition on Milolii Beach by a member of the Pacific Island Region Marine Mammal Response Network in early August.
The Coast Guard flew her to Ke Kai Ola on Aug. 11 with Shawn Johnson, head veterinarian at the animal hospital, where she received treatment for two types of parasites.
“There was not a whole lot that was specifically wrong with her other than the fact that she was thin and malnourished and had a lot of intestinal parasites,” Simeone said. “We were able to take care of the parasites and support her nutritionally. She started eating on her own right away.”
RH38 entered the facility underweight at 88 pounds, and the young seal still had growing up to do. She left two months later weighing 200 pounds and just starting the annual molting cycle.
“When she went back out to the beach she was in great body condition, acting like a normal seal,” Simeone said.
The seal is the 21st to be rehabilitated and released from Ke Kai Ola, which has four pools that have housed up to seven Hawaiian monk seals at once.
“She had two companions when she was there, both from the French Frigate Shoals,” Simeone said. “They’ll be released soon and that’ll bring the total up to 23 animals since our opening in 2014.”
Out of those 23 animals that have set a flipper into the seal hospital, RH38 is the first from Kauai.
“She’s unique because the majority are from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The majority of the Hawaiian monk seal population lives there and there are only a few hundred seals on the Main Hawaiian Islands.”
Kauai’s debut patient at the hospital couldn’t have set a better standard, Simeone said, and she responded quickly to the medications that helped clear her parasites.
“She did everything she was supposed to do,” Simeone said. “Luckily she didn’t have any other signs of disease.”