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NOAA scientists send 20th monk seal home

October 23, 2017 - 9:39pm

HONOLULU — In August, NOAA’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program team marked a milestone by releasing Mililani back to the wild after rehabilitation at Ke Kai Ola in Kona. She was the 20th seal from the monk seal hospital to be released back to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, or Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

She was originally picked up at French Frigate Shoals in May and released back on her home shore, with a satellite transmitter attached to track her movements.

The monk seal hospital on Hawaii island has taken in malnourished pups from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and fattened them up for release back to their original homes since it opened its doors in 2014.

Currently, Ke Kai Ola has three patients in its charge: RH38, a female yearling from Kauai’s North Shore, Koani pehu, another female yearling, and Awapuhi, a female pup, from the French Frigate Shoals.

NOAA crews counted approximately 150 monk seal pups in Papaha­naumokuakea this year, and expects to release a more official population estimate of that location in mid-January.

A total of 18 pups — nine on Molokai, four on Oahu, four on Kauai and one on Hawaii island — were born this year. Three perished, leaving 15 survivors. On the island Niihau, 20 pups were born this year.

Hawaiian monk seals were listed as an endangered species in 1976. They are protected by state and federal laws.

About 1,400 seals remain in Hawaii.

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