Hawaiian Monk Seals Face New Threat: Getting Eels Stuck Up Their Noses

Cristina Cross
December 8, 2018

On Monday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program posted to its Facebook page a photo of a juvenile monk seal with what appears to be a spotted eel in its nose.

"We don't know if this is just some odd statistical anomaly or something we will see more of in the future". While the unfortunate, recently photographed seal was doing this, an eel could have, in a case of self-defense, "rammed itself into the nostril and maybe got stuck", Littnan said.

What's even stranger is that the seal program has seen this happen before, first noting the phenomenon a few years ago and citing multiple cases of juvenile seals with nostril eels since then.

The agency has two theories on why it happened in this case: A cornered eel was trying to defend itself or escape, and wound up in the seal's nose. The monk seals feed on or near the bottom of the ocean, because they're "very efficient" and "don't like to chase things in the water", he said. "It might not have been a good one for you but it had to have been better than an eel in your nose".

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

"Our researchers have observed this phenomenon three or four times now".

Michelle Barbieri a veterinarian for NOAA's Hawaiin Monk Seal Research Program working with Hawaiian monk seals
Michelle Barbieri a veterinarian for NOAA's Hawaiin Monk Seal Research Program working with Hawaiian monk seals

NOAA has been monitoring and protecting the endangered species for almost 40 years but has only noticed eels in seals for the last few years.

Which begs the question: are the seals shoving eels up there like... recreationally? "Having a rotten fish inside your nose is bound to cause some problems", Littnan lamented.

Human children are notorious for getting all sorts of odd objects stuck up their noses - but, it seems young seals are now gunning for the crown, too.

"Alternatively, the seal could have swallowed the eel and regurgitated it so that the eel came out the wrong way", NOAA said.

In every instance of eel-nose, including this one, the researchers have removed the eel successfully.

Only about 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals remain in the wild, with the majority residing in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The seals were all fine, but the eels did not make it, according to the scientists' post.

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