The following message/letter is from Dr. Michelle giving us an official update and explanation of Maka'iwi condition. (Photos were taken today by Team Billand) THANK YOU Doc for taking the time and explaining the details to us... YOU already know how much we appreciate it.
I know that you have all been closely following Makaiwi over the past 3 weeks, and it is with gratitude that I write to you with some information about her state of health, which continues to improve. Sincere thanks to those of you that were willing to help us help this seal. Without your assistance, our ability to evaluate and respond to her needs would have been much more difficult.
Makaiwi has been steadily recovering from a widespread infection beneath the skin (also called an abscess) on her back. In her case, there were multiple abscesses that contained different pockets of infected tissue, cells and bacteria (called "pus"). Makaiwi's reluctance to haul out was probably driven by pain. When hauled out, her body weight would have pulled on and added pressure to those abscessed areas, so pain probably drove her to seek some relief using the buoyancy of the water. So Makaiwi did what we would hope any injured seal would do: rest, away from (perceived) danger, and allow her injuries to heal. In retrospect, she essentially "hospitalized" herself in the harbor!
Initially, we were all a bit puzzled by the appearance of some of her abscesses, but as she heals, we are able to see that her affliction is similar to the injuries and scars that result when Hawaiian monk seals fight with each other. Abscesses most often form in the presence of bacteria, like those transmitted from the mouth during a bite. Bites are often deep puncture wounds, which are difficult to see from the outside, but introduce bacteria deep within the tissues. There, they proliferate, in addition to cells from the body's immune system, which is trying to fight the infection. Eventually, abscesses often rise to the skin surface, open and drain (as occurred in Makaiwi's case). Other types of trauma (such as a shark bite or blunt force trauma) typically do not introduce or trap bacteria deep beneath the skin and thus do not tend to cause abscesses.
Still, Makaiwi's wounds are quite unsightly. In fact, as they started to rupture and drain (which was an encouraging part of the healing process!) they looked worse before they got better. The team was also able to give her antibiotics to help her along in the healing process and prevent the infection from spreading to other parts of her body.
Unfortunately, this sort of injury is all too often seen in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, most commonly on subadult and adult seals. It can occur during the mating season, but doesn't always. Mating scratches are indeed present on Makaiwi's body, further suggestive that these wounds were a result of a seal-seal interaction. She is expected to make a full recovery, but thanks again to many of you, we will be keeping a close watch on her for the forseeable future.
Veterinarian (NOAA PIFSC and The Marine Mammal Center)