Monk seal returns to the wild


POSTED: Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Coast Guard flew a 7-month-old Hawaiian monk seal yesterday from Oahu to a secret location where scientists will release it into the wild.


;[Preview]  Monk Seal Released

  For the first time a hand raised Hawaiian monk seal was released back into the wild. 


Watch  ]





  Biologists expect to spend a few days monitoring how the pup is doing before returning.

Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have been nursing the seal to health after it was found abandoned on a remote part of Kauai's North Shore just one day after it was born in May.

Biologists tried to reunite the pup with its mother, but the adult female seal barked and acted aggressively toward the pup. She also appeared more interested in an adult male seal than the pup.

The mother had abandoned another seal at the same location on Kauai last year. The animal was suffering and had to be euthanized by the time it was found.

Officials brought the new pup, named KP2, to Oahu in May after determining it would not be able to survive on its own.

The seal spent its first few months in critical care at NOAA's Kewalo Research Facility. It was later moved to a shore pen at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay, where it has been learning to survive in the wild.

Monk seals are an endangered species. Only about 1,100 to 1,200 are believed to exist, and their population is declining about 4 percent annually.

Sharks are killing many of the seals, while others are dying of starvation because they cannot find enough food.

At the current rate, scientists estimate there will be fewer than 1,000 left within five years.

NOAA announced last year that it would try to stem the decline by nabbing and nurturing in captivity about 50 malnourished seals each year. The scientists expect to release the seals back into the wild to start new families once they have survived their vulnerable early years.