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Photo story: Rescued seals make it home for the holidays

Three monk seals rehabilitated for malnourishment are now back in the wild, in time to make a fresh, healthy start in the new year.

NOAA Fisheries, in partnership with The Marine Mammal Center and U.S. Coast Guard, rescued the young malnourished seals from Hawaiian beaches during the spring and summer and took them to Ke Kai Ola, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital offsite linkand rehabilitation facility in Kona.

The move back to their natural habitat came just in time for the holidays. The hospital has rehabilitated 23 monk seals since it opened in 2014, a success story as scientists work to recover this endangered species.

We present to you their story, in photos:

Rescue from Gin Island: This little monk seal here is named ‘Awapuhi (Hawaiian for Ginger and pronounced “ah-vah-pu-hee”), NOAA crews stationed at French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands found her weak and malnourished on Gin Island during the spring 2017. 

She is pictured here resting on the shore just before the team transferred her, along with another malnourished pup named Koani pehu later in the season, to the NOAA ships and eventually to The Marine Mammal Center. Staff and volunteers with NOAA and the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources rescued a third pup found on the north shore of Kauai a few weeks later.
Rescue from Gin Island:  This little monk seal here is named ‘Awapuhi (Hawaiian for Ginger and pronounced “ah-vah-pu-hee”), NOAA crews stationed at French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands found her weak and malnourished on Gin Island during the spring 2017.
 
‘Awapuhi is pictured above resting on the shore just before the team transferred her, along with another malnourished pup named Koani pehu later in the season, to the NOAA ships and eventually to The Marine Mammal Center. Staff and volunteers with NOAA and the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources rescued a third pup found on the north shore of Kauai a few weeks later. (NOAA Fisheries)
A little TLC goes a long way: Staff and volunteers carefully transferred the three young seals to the hospital for veterinary care. All three seals arrived at The Marine Mammal Center Ke Kai Ola malnourished and underweight. ‘Awapuhi, seen here, weaned too early, would not have survived without help. 

Koani pehu (not pictured), which means “moon flower,” appeared thin and was losing weight, which raised concerns that she would not survive another year. 

The third seal from Kauai (not pictured) had a serious tapeworm infestation. The parasites are common and make it even tougher for sick juvenile seals by depleting precious nutrients. Once the veterinarians treated her for the parasites, she slowly began to eat herring and steadily put on weight. At the time of her release back to the wild, she had more than doubled in size.
A little TLC goes a long way:  Staff and volunteers carefully transferred the three young seals to the hospital for veterinary care. All three seals arrived at The Marine Mammal Center Ke Kai Ola malnourished and underweight. ‘Awapuhi, seen here, weaned too early, would not have survived without help.
 
Koani pehu (not pictured), which means “moon flower,” appeared thin and was losing weight, which raised concerns that she would not survive another year.
 
The third seal from Kauai (not pictured) had a serious tapeworm infestation. The parasites are common and make it even tougher for sick juvenile seals by depleting precious nutrients. Once the veterinarians treated her for the parasites, she slowly began to eat herring and steadily put on weight. At the time of her release back to the wild, she had more than doubled in size. (Courtesy of Laura Grote/The Marine Mammal Center)
Rehabilitation —  and lots of snacks: With treatment, ‘Awapuhi, (above) and the other young monk seals eventually got to a point where they could eat food on their own.
Rehabilitation — and lots of snacks:  With treatment, ‘Awapuhi, (above) and the other young monk seals eventually got to a point where they could eat food on their own. (Courtesy of Laura Grote/The Marine Mammal Center)
A special holiday delivery, courtesy of the Coast Guard: The U.S. Coast Guard used a C130 Hercules aircraft to fly crates carrying the rehabilitated seals from the Ke Kai Ola hospital back to their respective homes in November and December.
A special holiday delivery, courtesy of the Coast Guard:  The U.S. Coast Guard used a C130 Hercules aircraft to fly crates carrying the rehabilitated seals from the Ke Kai Ola hospital back to their respective homes in November and December. (NOAA Fisheries)
Sun and sand before the big swim home: Once back on the beach in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, ‘Awapuhi and Koani pehu spent a few days in a holding pen to get acclimated to their beach environment.

Once they are used to their surroundings, scientists open the gate and the seals head straight for the water. ‘Awapuhi and Koani pehu were released on Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and the Kauai seal (RH38) was released back home on Kauai.
Sun and sand before the big swim home:  Once back on the beach in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, ‘Awapuhi and Koani pehu spent a few days in a holding pen to get acclimated to their beach environment.
 
Once they are used to their surroundings, scientists open the gate and the seals head straight for the water. ‘Awapuhi and Koani pehu were released on Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and the Kauai seal (RH38) was released back home on Kauai. (NOAA Fisheries)
The future looks bright: Now at healthier weights, the young, female seals in this story are some of the lucky ones who made it home for the holidays and have a better chance to thrive on the shores of Hawaii. 

Ultimately, our hope is that these three young females will give birth to the next generation of Hawaiian monk seals and help the species recover.
The future looks bright:  Now at healthier weights, the young, female seals in this story are some of the lucky ones who made it home for the holidays and have a better chance to thrive on the shores of Hawaii. Ultimately, our hope is that these three young females will give birth to the next generation of Hawaiian monk seals and help the species recover. (NOAA Fisheries)

NOAA honored The Marine Mammal Center with a Species in the Spotlight Hero Award during the Year of the Monk Seal. The award recognized Ke Kai Ola Hospital for its efforts to promote the conservation of the endangered Hawaiian monk seal.

What you can do: Help keep the future of Hawaiian monk seals bright by staying a safe distance away from them and doing your part to keep the beaches you visit as clean as possible.

All NOAA Fisheries photos were taken using a special research permit.

December 28, 2017