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Monk seal RK58 is home again

LIHU‘E — Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal, RK58 is back from his second visit to Ke Kai Ola, The Marine Mammal Center monk seal hospital on Hawai‘i Island.

The juvenile male seal has been released back into the wild on Kaua‘i after spending more than two months in rehabilitative care at the seal hospital. He was rescued and admitted to Ke Kai Ola on Feb. 16 with infected puncture wounds to his head, neck and flipper from a suspected dog attack.

He was released back on Kaua‘i on March 26, flying with the U.S. Coast Guard from Hawai‘i Island. The Coast Guard also delivered a young female Hawaiian monk seal named Mele to be released on an O‘ahu beach during the same trip.

“To return two Main Hawaiian Island seals back to their ocean home is an incredible success story with the survival of each individual critical to the recovery of the population,” said Dr. Cara Field, Medical Director at The Marine Mammal Center. “This success story highlights the importance of our ongoing partnerships to help give these animals a second chance at life and save this species.”

The two seals spent more than two months in rehabilitative care for malnutrition and other ailments. During their treatment, the underweight seals greatly improved in overall body condition and stamina. Both animals experienced remarkable weight gains during their short stay, with Mele, a young female rescued on Oahu due to her poor condition, nearly doubling in weight.

“We are so grateful that The Marine Mammal Center was able to immediately activate and provide the intensive care that these two patients needed,” says Dr. Michelle Barbieri, Lead Scientist for NOAA’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program. “Their return to the wild is important for the future of the species and we are glad that they are back home.”

RK58 has been in the spotlight since 2018, when he was born to the Hawaiian monk seal Rocky (RH58). She made waves the year before when she gave birth to the first pup ever recorded on a crowded Waikiki Beach in June of 2017. That pup was given the name Kaimana and was relocated to a quieter beach when she was weaned.

In July 2018 Rocky made the news again when she gave birth to RK58 and then was involved in a switch with another mom-pup pair, which experts say is a natural occurrence. After the switch-up Rocky rejected the pup. So, biologists picked up RK58 and admitted him to Ke Kai Ola, where he joined another Hawaiian monk seal pup involved in a mom-pup switch on Moloka‘i. At the time, RK58 was the youngest monk seal to ever be admitted to the center.

He was released back into the wild from his first stay at Ke Kai Ola in February 2019.

Since 2014, the Center has rehabilitated and released 35 monk seals, most of which have been rescued from and returned to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) as part of the partnership with NOAA, utilizing resources in the NWHI to identify seals in need, rescue and rehabilitate them, and give them a second chance at life.
Source: The Garden Island

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