Endangered Hawaiian monk seals keep getting eels stuck up their noses and scientists want them to stop

By Allyson Chiu | The Washington Post

A relaxed-looking juvenile Hawaiian monk seal lounges near a sandy white beach on some green foliage. Its eyes are half-closed and it has a serene expression on its face. But the seal’s calm demeanor is surprising.

Why? Well, there’s a long, black-and-white eel dangling from its right nostril.

“It’s just so shocking,” Claire Simeone, a veterinarian and monk seal expert based in Hawaii, told The Washington Post on Thursday. “It’s an animal that has another animal stuck up its nose.”

Simeone wasn’t the only person stunned by the photo of the seal and its unusual facial ornament that was shared earlier this week on Facebook by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program. The picture – taken this year in the remote northwestern Hawaiian islands – has since gone viral, drawing attention to a rare phenomenon that continues to baffle scientists who are now begging the endangered seals to “make better choices.”

It all began about two years ago when Charles Littnan, lead scientist of the monk seal program, woke up to a strange email from researchers in the field. The subject line was short: “Eel in nose.”

“It was just like, ‘We found a seal with an eel stuck in its nose, do we have a protocol?’” Littnan told The Post in a phone interview.

There was none, Littnan said, and it took several emails and phone calls before the decision was made to grab the eel and try pulling it out.

“There was only maybe two inches of the eel actually still sticking out of the nose, so it was very much akin to the magician’s trick when they’re pulling out the handkerchiefs and they keep coming and coming and coming,” he said.

After less than a minute of tugging, a two-and-a-half-foot dead eel emerged from the seal’s nostril.

Since then, Littnan said there have been at least three or four reported cases – the most recent occurring this fall. In all the cases, the eels were removed successfully and the seals are “doing great,” he said. None of the eels, however, survived.

“We have no idea why this is suddenly happening,” Littnan said. “You see some very strange things if you watch nature long enough and this could end up being one of these little oddities and mysteries of our careers that 40 years from now, we’ll be retired and still questioning quite how this happened.”

Researchers have

Source:: The Mercury News – Lifestyle

      

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