Hawaiian Monk Seal With Eel Stuck Up Its Nose Makes Full Recovery — The Eel, Not So Much

Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi).
Tory Kallman / Shutterstock

Earlier this week, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program (HMSRP) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) posted a bizarre and rather troubling photograph on social media. The snapshot, which amassed hundreds of comments on Facebook and was shared more than 1,000 times, showed a Hawaiian monk seal with a spotted eel stuck up its nose.

Although the unlucky seal — a juvenile, by all accounts — didn’t seem too bothered by the sticky situation in which it mysteriously ended up, field researchers rushed to the scene to help the poor animal get free from its unwanted baggage, reports CNet.

The situation was resolved through “light restraint of the seal and a slow steady pull to get the eel out,” notes Motherboard, citing sources from the seal program. While the pup seems to be doing well, the eel was less fortunate and did not survive the peculiar incident.

According to the HMSRP, as unusual as this occurrence may be, it has been known to happen on occasion. As it turns out, several juvenile seals have been sighted with eels dangling from their noses in the past few years.

“In all cases the eel was successfully removed and the seals were fine. The eels, however, did not make it,” HMSRP marine biologist Brittany Dolan wrote in the Facebook post.

In an update to this confounding story, the NOAA offers an explanation as to how the two animals might have ended up in this lamentable circumstance. According to the agency, there are two possible scenarios: either the eel was cornered into a tight spot and wound up in the seal’s nose by mistake while it was trying to defend itself or escape, or the seal swallowed the elongated fish and regurgitated its prey out the wrong way.

In any case, this is not the first time that a seal pup was found with an eel lodged in its nostril. In fact, “this is the third or fourth case of an eel in the nose that we have observed,” said Charles Littnan, HMSRP lead scientist and supervisory research ecologist.

“All of the seals that we have encountered in this slippery situation have been quickly caught by our response teams and the eel gently and successfully removed. All the seals were released and haven’t shown any issues from the incidents.”

This latest occurrence was photographed over the summer on an islet in the French Frigate Shoals, the largest atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The area houses nearly 80 percent of the Hawaiian monk seal population and is a bustling nursery where seal mothers come to rear their pups.