Hawaiian monk seals are endangered and closely monitored by NOAA scientists who are alarmed that the seals keep getting eels stuck really deep in their nostrils.
The scientists have removed “three or four” eels from juvenile monk seals’ nostrils over the past two years, mostly in the last few months. The seals are fine. The eels died.
The scientists don’t know how the eels got stuck up the seals’ nostrils. Perhaps they swam up there after getting cornered in a coral reef, or possibly the seals ate them and barfed them up and got them stuck in their noses. They worry that the seals will not be able to keep water out of their lungs when diving — leading to pneumonia — or they will end up with rotting eels stuck in their heads.
Still, Littnan said it doesn’t seem possible that a “long, fat eel” would end up going through a seal’s nose rather than out of its mouth. The “most plausible” theory, he said, is that monk seal teenagers aren’t all that different from their human counterparts. Monk seals “seem naturally attracted to getting into troublesome situations,” Littnan said.
“It almost does feel like one of those teenage trends that happen,” he said. “One juvenile seal did this very stupid thing and now the others are trying to mimic it.”
Though no seals have died or been seriously affected by the eels, having a dead animal up their noses for any extended amount of time poses potentially adverse health impacts, said Simeone, director of Ke Kai Ola, a monk seal hospital in Hawaii run by the Marine Mammal Center.