LIHUE — Hawaiian monk seal RH38 is back in the wild and appears to be healthy after her second stint at Ke Kai Ola monk seal hospital in Kailua-Kona.
And the seal’s success story is being highlighted for the cooperation and technology it required to ensure RH38 would survive.
Originally admitted to Ke Kai Ola in August 2017 for malnutrition and a heavy parasite load, RH38 returned to the hospital the following March.
During her first visit, she was treated for numerous serious medical ailments including trauma, pneumonia, corneal damage and multiple organ infections due to sepsis. When she was discovered thin and malnourished again, she was taken to North Hawaii Community Hospital on Hawaii Island for a CT scan, the first-ever performed on a wild Hawaiian monk seal, before going back to Ke Kai Ola.
That scan found an infection in RH38’s back flippers that had spread into her bloodstream, believed to be caused by trauma.
“For an endangered marine mammal like the Hawaiian monk seal, the release of every individual is critical to help boost the overall population,” says Dr. Shawn Johnson, vice president of Veterinary Medicine and Science at The Marine Mammal Center. “RH38’s recovery is an incredible success story that was full of medical complexities and highlights the importance of our ongoing partnerships to help save this species.”
Shortly after RH38 was released on Kauai with a tracker tag attached to her back, experts at The Marine Mammal Center took in RL76, a seriously ill weaned female pup from Kalaupapa, Molokai, after she was observed displaying open mouth breathing behavior and severe head swelling.
Radiograph and ultrasound exams showed RL76 was suffering from head trauma, scratches and puncture wounds consistent with an interaction with another seal. The Center’s veterinary experts are watching her closely as they consider next steps once her trauma and respiration improves. The female pup arrived last week with assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Inouye Regional Center.
“Both cases of RH38 and RL76 are excellent examples of the importance collaborative partnerships play in the conservation of Hawaiian monk seals,” says Jamie Thomton, the Kauai Marine Mammal Response Program Coordinator with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. “Conservation takes a village, and to see an outcome like this is a reaffirmation of the impact this critical work is having for this species’ future.”
The Marine Mammal Center has rehabilitated and released 28 monk seals, including RH38 twice, since opening Ke Kai Ola in 2014.