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Photo story: Home sweet home, monk seals returned to the wild

May 23, 2016
Rescued seal pup, Hawaii, September 2015.

Seven rehabilitated monk seal pups are back in the wild. NOAA Fisheries rescued the endangered seals from Hawaiian beaches last September and took them to The Marine Mammal Center's Ke Kai Olaoffsite link seal rehabilitation facility on the Big Island.

The U.S. Coast Guard helped transfer the animals back to their homes this spring. This partnership boasts 15 young rehabilitated monk seals so far, including these seven — a critical success story as we work together to recover the endangered species.

Here's their story:

Rescue

This is Kilo languishing on the beach after her mother abandoned her. NOAA Fisheries captured and transferred the pup to the Marine Mammal Center for veterinary care.
Abandoned seal pup on Niihau, Hawaii
This is Kilo languishing on the beach after her mother abandoned her. NOAA Fisheries captured and transferred the pup to the Marine Mammal Center for veterinary care. (NOAA)

Rehabilitation

Many of the malnourished seal pups required extensive care. This seal was so weak that the veterinarians had to carefully feed him in order to start him on his way to recovery.
Tube feeding monk seal
Many of the malnourished seal pups required extensive care. This seal was so weak that the veterinarians had to carefully feed him in order to start him on his way to recovery. (Credit: Julie Steelman)
Thanks to the efforts by The Marine Mammal Center, the rescued monk seals were soon able to feed themselves.
Monk seals recover during rehabilitation
Thanks to the efforts by The Marine Mammal Center, the rescued monk seals were soon able to feed themselves. (Credit: Julie Steelman)

Getting ready for the big move 

The U.S. Coast Guard used a C130 aircraft to fly crates carrying the seals from the rehabilitation center to Oahu on April 14.
Monk seal transport
The U.S. Coast Guard used a C-130 aircraft to fly crates carrying the seals from the rehabilitation center to Oahu on April 14. (U.S. Coast Guard)
In Oahu, scientists load the seals onto a NOAA ship Hi‘ialakai to complete the transport back to the wild.
Second leg of transport via sea
In Oahu, scientists load the seals onto the NOAA Ship Hi‘ialakai to complete the transport back to the wild. (NOAA)

Back home

Once back on the beach, the seals spent a few days in a holding pen to get acclimated to their new beach environment. Here, scientists open the gate and the seal knew exactly where to go.
Monk seals returned to sun and sand
Once back on the beach, the seals spent a few days in a holding pen to get acclimated to their new beach environment. Here, scientists open the gate and the seal knew exactly where to go. (Credit: Matt Chauvin)
Kilo swims in the surf. A tag on her body allows scientists to monitor her whereabouts and environment to keep tabs on how she’s doing and learn more about monk seal behavior.
Monk seals happy to be home again
Kilo swims in the surf. A tag on her body allows scientists to monitor her whereabouts and environment to keep tabs on how she’s doing and learn more about monk seal behavior. (Credit: Matt Chauvin)