Monk seal hospital caring for malnourished pup rescued from Molokai

  • Sole, a newly admitted male Hawaiian monk seal pup, rests on the pen floor near pool enrichment items during rehabilitation at The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola hospital in Kona, Hawai‘i. Photo credit Sheila Latta © The Marine Mammal Center, NOAA permit #18786
  • Hawaiian monk seal pup Sole nurses with a female monk seal on Molokai prior to the animal’s rehabilitation at Ke Kai Ola.

  • Members of the United States Coast Guard load Hawaiian monk pup Sole onboard a transport helicopter in Honolulu, Hawai‘i, prior to the animal’s rehabilitation at Ke Kai Ola, The Marine Mammal Center’s hospital and visitor center in Kona, Hawai‘i. The Center is grateful to its partners at the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Park Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for their ongoing support in helping to save the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Photo credit © The Marine Mammal Center, NOAA permit #18786
  • Volunteers and staff from The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola hospital meet members of the United States Coast Guard in Kona to help unload Sole.

  • Ke Kai Ola staff members Megan McGinnis (R) and Tara Speigel (L) carefully tube feed newly admitted male Hawaiian monk seal pup Sole a special formula during rehabilitation at The Marine Mammal Center’s hospital and visitor center in Kona, Hawai‘i. The male pup will continue to receive nutrition in the form of a blended fish mash until he is strong enough to transition to eat whole fish. Photo credit Sheila Latta © The Marine Mammal Center, NOAA permit #18786
  • Newly admitted Hawaiian monk seal pup Sole explores his pen floor during rehabilitation at The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola hospital in Kona. (Photos by Sheila Latta/The Marine Mammal Center)

KAILUA-KONA — A Hawaiian monk seal pup recently rescued on Molokai is now in stable condition at Ke Kai Ola, The Marine Mammal Center’s hospital and visitor center in Kailua-Kona.

The pup, named Sole, prematurely weaned from its mother earlier in July and his small size and thin body condition quickly became a concern for wildlife experts. Veterinarians from The Marine Mammal Center, with the support of the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Park Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, rescued the pup late last week and transferred it to the Hawaii Island hospital for care.

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“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,” said Claire Simeone, the center’s hospital director. “Conservation takes a village. We are so grateful to our partners for their support in achieving our mission, and ensuring this pup made it safely to Ke Kai Ola.”

Born on June 20, this male pup switched to nursing from another monk seal mother who had been with her female pup since May 30, an event that has been observed occasionally in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands by NOAA researchers. Unfortunately, the male pup’s nursing time was shortened, resulting in minimal reserves and a lower body weight. It was clear that intervention was critical to ensure the pup’s survival.

“After several consultations with the patient-residents and the Kalaupapa community, the decision was made to rescue the animal. One resident who heard of the small pup said that we ‘need to get on it wiki-wiki,’” said Eric Brown, Marine Ecologist at Kalaupapa National Historic Park. “The patient-residents submitted the name Sole, a Samoan name that means a young boy who is the runner for the high chief.”

The Coast Guard provided a helicopter flight from Honolulu to Kalaupapa National Historical Park, and then on to Kailua-Kona to safely transport the seal to rehabilitation. Simeone accompanied the seal on the transport and is providing supportive care at the hospital with the assistance of staff and volunteers.

During his initial exam, Simeone noted that the pup, named Sole, was malnourished but otherwise stable. He is currently receiving nutrition in the form of a blended fish mash, and as he grows stronger will transition to eating whole fish.

It is rare to rescue a monk seal from the main Hawaiian Islands, and this young pup is only the second pup from the main islands to be rehabilitated by the center. The center has rehabilitated 23 monk seals since opening Ke Kai Ola in 2014, the majority of which were rescued from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Volunteers are needed at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority-based hospital and visitor center in a variety of roles, including animal care, education and response. Interested individuals should visit www.marinemammalcenter.org/KKO-volunteer to learn more.

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Ke Kai Ola is open to the public Monday through Friday, 10am – 4pm. Tours are available by appointment only. Due to their endangered status, monk seal patients are not available for viewing, but may be seen remotely as part of a tour. Additionally, marine science educators at Ke Kai Ola offer a variety of school programs. Call 326-7325 for more information on tours or education offerings.

If you spot a monk seal in the wild on Hawaii Island, keep a safe distance and report the sighting to Ke Kai Ola’s response team at the 24-hour hotline at 987-0765.