Hawaiian monk seal has eel removed from its nose

Christopher Davidson
December 7, 2018

The uncomfortable sight on the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program Facebook page has received over 1,000 shares, and left many wondering what is going on.

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. "We don't know if this is just some unusual statistical anomaly or something we will see more of in the future". Another is that startled eels get stuck there while attempting to flee the seals as the predators forage for food beneath rocks.

'If you come across a Hawaiian monk seal mom and pup, please stay quiet and enjoy them from a distance, remaining behind any signs or barriers that might be present'.

Researchers aren't certain how eels end up in this tight spot, but they have a few ideas.

"They get stuck in there really snug, so you have to restrain the seal and give the eel a firm tug to get it out", said Littnan.

A monk seal was spotted with an eel dangling from is nose.

Fortunately, no harm to the seals was observed.

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In this case, a relatively small part of the eel is in the nose, which "leads me to thinking that the eel forced itself in while trying to escape", Littnan said.

"What is interesting that in the almost 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.

The research group found another eel stuck in the same predicament in 2016.

If that had been the case with this seal, the animal probably could have gotten rid of the eel on its own by shaking its head around.

One theory is that seals, which often regurgitate their meals, are simply throwing up eels through their noses. Also, seals' nostrils close automatically when the animals go under water, and having an eel in there could have hindered that process, closing off an all-around great day for the seal with some water up the nose. The seals were all fine, but the eels did not make it, according to the scientists' post.

Hawaiian monk seals are a critically endangered species found only in Hawaii, and are protected by both state and federal laws. But recent years have shown "encouraging developments", according to NOAA Fisheries.

Good news, though, at least for the seal.

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