Successful Return of Rehabilitated Seals to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

July 31, 2015
Rehabilitated seals returned to Kure Atoll.
Rehabilitated seals returned to Kure Atoll.

Last September at the end of our field effort in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI), the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program team collected 2 malnourished weaned pups (1 each from Kure Atoll and Laysan Island) for rehabilitation. After a 5 month stay at Ke Kai Ola, The Marine Mammal Center's monk seal hospital in Kona on Hawaii Island, the pups had quadrupled their body weight and were ready for release back to the NWHI. This was successfully accomplished through invaluable multi-agency cooperative efforts. The US Coast Guard provided air transport to Midway Atoll, US Fish and Wildlife Service provided a safe holding area at Midway Atoll until ship transport (M/V Kahana) to Kure Atoll, and the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources team at Kure Atoll took over the animal care and monitoring efforts once the NMFS escort team departed (later on the day of arrival at Kure Atoll). This was the first time in 5 months the seals had been on a sandy beach and had seen the blue sky! To give the seals time to acclimate after all the travel and changes to their routine, they were held in a beach pen on Kure for several days to give them time to settle in. On March 25th, the pen door was opened and the seals were returned to the wild. Since release, these two seals (now yearlings) have adapted well and have been seen regularly. They were in such good body condition, that they completed their annual molt in June, months ahead of other yearling seals!