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Critically ill monk seal gets CT scan at North Hawaii Community Hospital

Claire Simeone

A critically ill Hawaiian monk seal has been rescued from Kauai for the second time and is now under the care of a monk seal hospital in Kailua-Kona.

RH38, a juvenile female monk seal, is in stable, but critical condition, according to Ke Kai Ola, a monk seal hospital run by The Marine Mammal Center. The center’s veterinary team conducted initial tests and found that RH38 is suffering from weakness, infection, broad-scale inflammation and malnutrition. However, the team is still trying to pinpoint the cause of these symptoms.

She has been provided with life-saving and supportive care, and the team continues to conduct extensive testing to find the cause of illness in the endangered monk seal. Most recently, she was transported to North Hawaii Community Hospital for a CT scan — the first ever performed on a wild Hawaiian monk seal.

“We’re incredibly concerned by RH38’s case as every individual is critical to this endangered population,” said Dr. Claire Simeone, the center’s hospital director, in a news release. “We are committed to finding the cause of her illness and are using world-class expertise and medical techniques to keep RH38 alive and get her back to the wild.”

Over the past year, the Kauai Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui has been monitoring RH38, and volunteers routinely observed her in good body condition. In March, however, her body condition rapidly grew worse.

She was rescued from Kauai on March 12 and transported by the U.S. Coast Guard to Ke Kai Ola.

The center said RH38 has been tested for dozens of diseases, toxins and parasites. Veterinarians have not found any evidence of toxoplasmosis, leptospirosis, morbillivirus, or influenza, trauma or poison, but are not ruling anything out at this point.

In August 2017, RH38 was also admitted to Ke Kai Ola for malnutrition and parasites. During three months of rehabilitation, she more than doubled her body weight and was successfully released back to the wild in Kauai.

Federal researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will continue to monitor the population of monk seals on Kauai, but so far, have found no indication that there is a threat to the larger population.

“No additional sick or malnourished monk seals have been detected across the main Hawaiian islands,” said Michelle Barbieri, a veterinarian with NOAA’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program, in a statement. “We do not currently have any reason to believe that what is affecting RH38 is contagious to the rest of the population.”

Since opening in 2014, Ke Kai Ola has rehabilitated 27 monk seals, most of which were rescued from and returned to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Hawaiian monk seals are a critically endangered species protected by state and federal laws. Only an estimated 1,400 remain in the wild.

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