Endangered Hawaiian monk seals keep getting eels stuck up their noses

A relaxed-looking juvenile Hawaiian monk seal lounges close to a sandy white seashore on some inexperienced foliage. Its eyes are half-closed and it has a serene expression on its face. However the seal’s calm demeanor is shocking.

Why? Properly, there’s a protracted, black-and-white eel dangling from its proper nostril.

“It’s simply so stunning,” Claire Simeone, a veterinarian and monk seal skilled primarily based in Hawaii, instructed The Washington Put up on Thursday. “It’s an animal that has one other animal caught up its nostril.”

Simeone wasn’t the one particular person surprised by the photograph of the seal and its uncommon facial decoration that was shared earlier this week on Fb by the Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Analysis Program. The image – taken this yr within the distant northwestern Hawaiian islands – has since gone viral, drawing consideration to a uncommon phenomenon that continues to baffle scientists who at the moment are begging the endangered seals to “make higher decisions.”

All of it started about two years in the past when Charles Littnan, lead scientist of the monk seal program, woke as much as a wierd electronic mail from researchers within the area. The topic line was brief: “Eel in nostril.”

“It was similar to, ‘We discovered a seal with an eel caught in its nostril, do we have now a protocol?’” Littnan instructed The Put up in a cellphone interview.

There was none, Littnan stated, and it took a number of emails and cellphone calls earlier than the choice was made to seize the eel and take a look at pulling it out.

“There was solely possibly two inches of the eel really nonetheless protruding of the nostril, so it was very a lot akin to the magician’s trick after they’re pulling out the handkerchiefs and so they hold coming and coming and coming,” he stated.

After lower than a minute of tugging, a two-and-a-half-foot lifeless eel emerged from the seal’s nostril.

Since then, Littnan stated there have been no less than three or 4 reported instances – the latest occurring this fall. In all of the instances, the eels had been eliminated efficiently and the seals are “doing nice,” he stated. Not one of the eels, nevertheless, survived.

“We don’t know why that is immediately occurring,” Littnan stated. “You see some very unusual issues should you watch nature lengthy sufficient and this might find yourself being one among these little oddities and mysteries of our careers that 40 years from now, we’ll be retired and nonetheless questioning fairly how this occurred.”

Researchers have already decided this isn’t the results of a human with a private vendetta in opposition to seals and eels as a result of all of the instances had been reported from distant islands which can be solely frequented by scientists. Littnan stated he does have a couple of theories about how an eel may naturally find yourself wedged in a seal’s nostril.

A seal’s most popular prey – normally fish, octopuses and, in fact, eels – like to cover inside coral reefs to keep away from being eaten, and because the marine mammals don’t have palms, they should hunt with their faces.

“They like to stay their faces into the coral reef holes and so they’ll spit water out of their mouths to flush issues out and so they’ll do all types of methods, however they’re shoving their faces into holes,” Littnan stated.

Maybe, he stated, a cornered eel determined that the one approach to escape or defend itself was to swim up its attacker’s nostril and younger seals who’re “not very adept at getting their meals but” had been compelled to study a troublesome lesson.

However Littnan stated that idea doesn’t make a lot sense.

“They’re actually fairly lengthy eels, and their diameter might be near what it might be for a nasal passage,” he stated.

He added {that a} monk seal’s nostrils, which reflexively shut when they’re diving for meals, are very muscular and it might be troublesome for any animal to push via.

“I wrestle to consider an eel actually eager to pressure its method right into a nostril,” he stated.

The opposite method eels is perhaps ending up in nostrils is thru throwing up. Just like how folks generally find yourself unintentionally spewing meals or drinks from their noses, that would additionally occur to seals, who usually regurgitate their meals.

Nonetheless, Littnan stated it doesn’t appear doable {that a} “lengthy, fats eel” would find yourself going via a seal’s nostril reasonably than out of its mouth. The “most believable” idea, he stated, is that monk seal youngsters aren’t all that completely different from their human counterparts. Monk seals “appear naturally interested in entering into troublesome conditions,” Littnan stated.

“It virtually does really feel like a kind of teenage tendencies that occur,” he stated. “One juvenile seal did this very silly factor and now the others try to imitate it.”

Although no seals have died or been critically affected by the eels, having a lifeless animal up their noses for any prolonged period of time poses probably opposed well being impacts, stated Simeone, director of Ke Kai Ola, a monk seal hospital in Hawaii run by the Marine Mammal Middle.

With an eel lodged in its nostril, a monk seal wouldn’t be capable of shut the blocked nostril when diving, which implies water may get into their lungs and trigger issues, resembling pneumonia, Simeone stated. A decomposing eel carcass may additionally result in infections, she stated.

On Fb, the photograph of the seal had greater than 1,600 reactions as of early Friday morning. The caption learn, “Mondays . . . it won’t have been one for you but it surely needed to have been higher than an eel in your nostril.” It additionally grew to become a trending moment on Twitter.

Many expressed sympathy for the seal having to expertise what one Twitter person described as “essentially the most uncomfortable factor ever.”

“RIP eel, however how satisfying should it have been for the seal when it was pulled out?” one other particular person wondered.

Littnan, nevertheless, instructed The Put up the younger seal “appeared apparently pretty oblivious to the truth that there was two ft of eel protruding of its face.”

Generally, Simeone stated marine animals are “very stoic,” including, “It’s wonderful the sorts of issues they’ll tolerate.”

Whereas “eel snorting” has but to actually catch on within the seal group, Littnan stated he hopes it by no means does.

“We’re hoping it’s simply one among these flukes that may disappear and by no means be seen once more,” he stated.

If monk seals may perceive people, Littnan stated he has a message for them: “I might gently plead for them to cease.”

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