Marine Mammal Commission

Monk Seal Health Care Facilities

In 2014, The Marine Mammal Center of Sausalito, California, a non-profit veterinary research and rehabilitation center for injured and sick marine mammals, opened a new health care center for monk seals. Located on land owned by Natural Energy Laboratory Hawaii Authority in Kailua-Kona on the Island of Hawaii, the $3.2 million facility was funded entirely with private donations raised by the Center. Named Ke Kai Ola, meaning “healing sea,” the new monk seal hospital features holding pools able to provide long-term care for up to ten seals. It also includes pens to hold seals in isolation when needed, a medical building with a laboratory and food preparation area, and an open-air education pavilion for visitors.

Juvenile monk seal pups image

Juvenile monk seal pups, Pearl and Hermes, adjust to their new home at the Ke Kai Ola Hospital in Kona. (NMFS)

In early July 2014, Ke Kai Ola received its first patients: four under-nourished monk seals brought in from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The four seals included two yearlings, one from Midway and one from French Frigate Shoals, and two weaned pups from Pearl and Hermes Reef. All four were successfully nursed back to health and released back to the NWHI the following fall. In 2015 the hospital successfully treated and released seven monk seals, including six underweight animals rescued in the NWHI and an emaciated orphaned pup found on the island of Niihau. In early 2016, four more seals were brought to the facility for treatment from the NWHI, including a five-year old female seal. All four were also successfully rehabilitated and released back to the NWHI in May of 2017. The rehabilitation and release of the juvenile female was notable as it was the largest seal that has been treated by the facility. To date, Ke Kai Ola has successfully treated and released 19 seals, including 16 females which could markedly increase the reproductive potential of the wild population.

Also in February 2014, a new monk seal holding and care facility dedicated to monk seals became operational at NOAA’s new Inouye Research Center at Pearl Harbor on Oahu. This new facility includes four above ground pools, a complete necropsy laboratory, and a state of the art veterinary laboratory for surgical and other veterinary procedures. The facility has already been used for to perform several monk seal dehookings and emergency surgeries, and to provide outpatient care for seals prior to their release back into the wild.