Thursday, May 29, 2014
5/28/2014 Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program's Update on Temp 401
The following post appeared on the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program's facebook page. I am re-posting here on the blog since Temp 401 has been discussed on the blog and I am sure many of our followers have had some questions.... Personally I was happy to see this as it's the story behind the story. I also know the HMSRP team of professionals take their jobs very seriously and individually they do care very much about the well being of our beloved monk seals.
Aloha All (long post today). On May 15, our team was working on Rabbit Island, Oahu and came across a young unidentified female seal that had a nasty wound (likely from a shark, on her head). First thing the following morning we sent our vet out to look at the animal and assess what needed to be done. The decision was to leave the seal in the wild, monitor, and if things didn't improve we would then intervene. The seal has since moved to Kaena Pt where she is muh more visible to the public. There have been a couple of queries as to "what has to happen to a seal in order for NOAA to do "something" about it". It is a valid question, but the undertones are unfair. There is not a single group of people that does more for monk seal recovery than the HMSRP. Combined, we have over 200 years of monk seal experience and work to understand and save seals across the Archipelago. So, while sometimes members of the public may not understand why decisions are made, we ask that you don't rush to judgement and think we are failing to act. In fact, if we are not taking action it is more than likely it is because we have decided the best course of action is NO ACTION.
So back to the seal in question. Our wonderful vet drafted the following response to a concerned citizen and we thought it would be good background information for all of you to better understand our thought process. It is important to mention that this is a good example of the importance of volunteers and other observers reporting seal sightings to us...it allows us to monitor the welfare of these seals. And we greatly appreciate the dedication and help.
It sounds like Temp 401 has been hanging around Ka'ena Pt lately and I wanted to take a moment to let you know about our assessment and approach to her current state.
The injuries were first observed on May 15. I was able to visually observe her early on May 16 from the water. The wounds were probably already about 2 weeks old at that time and demonstrated appropriate healing and showed no sign of infection. The wound was too wide to be surgically treatable. She was in good nutritional condition, appeared hydrated and was exhibiting normal behavior. She was alert and very responsive. Therefore, we could determine that these wounds were unlikely to be life-threatening and that there was little (if any) benefit to bringing her into rehabilitation.
Since then, thanks to all of you, we know that she has been swimming, diving (presumably foraging) and moving around the island normally. I am greatly encouraged by the healing progress documented in photos sent to NOAA on May 26-27. The wounds are likely several weeks old at this point and I cannot see any evidence of complications. You can see that the tissue is pink, which means it is healthy. The swelling is greatly reduced compared to May 15. The damaged eye is being reabsorbed and there appears to be adequate flushing and drainage - this is good because it reduces the chance that an infection will be able to set up within the damaged tissues. Compared to several weeks ago, the wound has already closed a great deal. New tissue is regenerating over the injured area rapidly. She will never be able to see out of her right eye, but we know (and have recent first hand evidence with R1KU!) that seals can do quite well in the wild with only one eye.
A visit to the hospital is also stressful for seals, and we weigh this option very carefully. Rehabilitation is not a panacea. At this time, we do not think it is an appropriate course of action for Temp 401 because she continues to demonstrate that she is doing all the right things to heal in the wild. We will re-evaluate this if there is a sign that the wounds are failing to heal or that she is behaving sickly.
We know that wild animals, particularly marine mammals, have a remarkable healing capacity. Temp 401 is certainly showing us that she does. Shark bites are an unfortunate but very real part of life for wild seals. If beachgoers happen to see her, you can feel free to explain that, reassure them that she is being monitored, and that what she needs most is clean salt water, rest and time to heal. It's just one more reason for all to keep a respectful distance.
While Temp 401's injuries appear ugly and painful, we have seen monk seals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (and other species throughout the world) recover from far more severe attacks, even without human aid. It truly is amazing.
Thank you for your help in monitoring her progress. Please let us know if you notice a change in her behavior (lethargic, not entering the water, logging in one place consistently, not responsive, dull). Also, feel free to reach out if you have additional questions.