Seal with eel stuck up its snout gets help from nosy scientists

A Hawaiian monk seal with an eel stuck in its nose

A Hawaiian monk seal with an eel stuck in its nose

A picture of a monk seal with an eel up its nose was shared this week by a Hawaii-based division of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa). Honestly, despite not being a seal and not having an eel now lodged up my schnozz, I can truly empathise.

A Hawaiian monk seal with an eel coming out of its nose?

Researchers noted that in all the cases, the eels have been successfully removed. "In nearly 40 years of monitoring, we have actually never observed this until a few years ago", Littnan said.

Researchers aren't certain how eels end up in this tight spot, but they have a few ideas.

"We've been intensively monitoring monk seals for four decades and in all of that time nothing like this has happened", said Charles Littnan, the lead scientist at Noaa's Hawaiian monk seal research program, to the Guardian.

It's one thing to get something stuck up your nose, it's a whole other story when you've got nothing but a set of flippers to try and get it out.

Michelle Barbieri a veterinarian for NOAA's Hawaiin Monk Seal Research Program working with Hawaiian monk seals
Michelle Barbieri a veterinarian for NOAA's Hawaiin Monk Seal Research Program working with Hawaiian monk seals

"If I had to guess, I would say that it's one of those strange oddities", Littnan said. "We might never know".

'Hawaiian monk seals forage by shoving their mouth and nose into the crevasses of coral reefs, under rocks, or into the sand, ' the NOAA team explains.

However, the agency says it has managed to save up to 30 percent of the monk seals in the current population, cutting the rate of population decline by half. Since this phenomenon has been observed only in juvenile seals, Littnan said it could also just be that the seals are inexperienced at hunting. Or, the seal regurgitated it and it went out the wrong place. Now the beleaguered species is facing an unexpected new challenge - eels getting stuck up their noses. The seals were all fine, but the eels did not make it, according to the scientists' post.

'We have now found juvenile seals with eels stuck in their noses on multiple occasions.

The seals' numbers have increased, even though these little creatures always "find unique ways to get themselves into trouble", Littnan said. "All the seals were released and haven't shown any issues from the incidents", NOAA adds.

There are only an estimated 632 mature Hawaiian monk seals left in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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