Earlier this year, scientists found a pair of few weeks old juvenile monk seals abandoned by their mother in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Finding them malnourished and weaned, scientists feared certain death if the pair of critically endangered mammals was left alone. This is when and how the journey of the monk seals to the Ke Kai Ola monk seal hospital in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii began, Huffington Post reported.
And it has been a journey of health and hope.
Over the past three months, Pearl and Hermes (named for the atoll where they were found) have been nursed back to health. They have reportedly doubled their weight on a diet of herring and other fish — Pearl weighing in at nearly 135 pounds and Hermes at 156 — and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration monk seal research team is now gearing up to re-release them in the wild later this month.
"It's pretty darn exciting," Deb Wickham, operations manager at the Ke Kai Ola, told The Huffington Post. "Each individual counts when you only have 1,100 animals," she added.
Found exclusively in the Hawaiian Archipelago, the Hawaiian monk seal is one of the rarest marine mammals in the world. The majority, about 900, reside in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, part of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. The remaining 200 or so inhabit the main Hawaiian Islands.
Funded by Marine Mammal Center of California, Ke Kai Ola, which means "the healing sea" in Hawaiian, opened it's doors last September and aims to "give monk seal pups a better shot at survival and adult seals a second chance when they need it."
On Tuesday, September 8, the $3.2 million facility welcomed its newest patient Kilo (meaning "sassy" in Hawaiian), a female pup that was found abandoned during a NOAA monk seal survey the day before on the privately owned island of Niihau.
"She's really emaciated," Wickham remarked, adding that she could clearly see the pup's hips and backbone. "But she's still got some spunk to her."
She added Kilo was already showing signs of improvement and that she's optimistic the "feisty" little pup will make a full recovery and return to the wild, likely in a few months.