Endangered Hawaiian monk seals face new challenge: eels stuck up their noses

Enlarge ImageYes that's an eel in a seal.                  NOAA Fisheries  Brittany Dolan

Enlarge ImageYes that's an eel in a seal. NOAA Fisheries Brittany Dolan

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program reported on a squicky find this week when it shared a Facebook photo of a seal with a spotted eel dangling from its nose.

No, it's not a tongue-twister for your office Christmas party, it's something that's actually been happening in Hawaii.

The uncomfortable sight on the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program Facebook page has received over 1,000 shares, and left many wondering what is going on.

'In all cases the eel was successfully removed and the seals were fine.

"If I had to guess, I would say that it's one of those strange oddities", Littnan said.

It's one thing to get something stuck up your nose, it's a whole other story when you've got nothing but a set of flippers to try and get it out.

"What is interesting that in the almost 40 years we have been monitoring and conserving we have only started seeing this in the last few years", he said in an e-mail.

'We don't know if this is just some odd statistical anomaly or something we will see more of in the future, ' the NOAA post notes.

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'If you come across a Hawaiian monk seal mom and pup, please stay quiet and enjoy them from a distance, remaining behind any signs or barriers that might be present'.

It's sad to hear that the eels didn't survive after being removed from the seal's nose, but considering they chose to enter the seal's nose without permission, they're really the architects of their own demise here.

'They are looking for prey that likes to hide, like eels.

Fortunately, no harm to the seals was observed. But the eel may have gotten deeper into the nose, preventing the seal from removing the invader.

Yes, that's an eel in a seal. Another theory is that seals trying to regurgitate swallowed eels might accidentally send the slippery fish out the wrong hole. An eel in the nose may be bad, but a rotting eel in the nose would be even worse; bacteria from the rotting flesh could have infected the animal, Littnan said. "The eels, however, did not make it".

The Hawaiian monk seal has become endangered due to a range of threats, from fishing net entanglements to disease.

The research group found another eel stuck in the same predicament in 2016. But recent years have shown "encouraging developments", according to NOAA Fisheries.

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