August 26, 2016 - 7:00 AM
HONOLULU - Four malnourished Hawaiian monk seals have been taken from remote atolls to a Big Island hospital for the endangered animals to be fed fish and fluids to boost their weight, officials said Thursday.
The seals also will receive antibiotics during their stay at the facility in Kailua-Kona.
Two of the seals were prematurely weaned by their mothers. One is a yearling, and the fourth is an extremely underweight five-year-old. Three of the animals are females.
Only about 1,300 of the animals remain in the wild and their population in the isolated Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is declining about 2 per cent a year, said Charles Littnan, lead scientist for the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program at the National Marine Fisheries Service.
He hopes nursing malnourished seals back to health will help stem the decline.
Construction of the monk seal hospital two years ago has given officials treatment options they previously lacked. Known as Ke Kai Ola, it is operated by the Marine Mammal Center, a California-based non-profit veterinary research hospital.
"All of these pups and young animals would have been left behind in the past and almost certainly would have died," Littnan said.
Over time, Littnan hopes the rescued seals will help boost the seal population.
Biologists captured the seals during a trip this summer. A research vessel took them to Kailua-Kona on Wednesday.
Last summer, researchers brought back six seals from the remote island chain and one seal from Niihau island. Fewer seals needed help this year, Littnan said.
Biologists and veterinarians study the seals over time to evaluate their weight. Seals with a girth of less than 35 inches will probably have a hard time surviving and would be good candidates for rescue, Littnan said.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016