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Endangered Hawaiian monk seals keep getting eels stuck up their noses

The photo – taken this year in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian islands – has become viral, attracting attention to a rare phenomenon that continues to confuse scientists who are now pleading with the endangered seals to "make better choices".

It all started about two years ago, when Charles Littnan, chief scientist of the monk seal program, woke up with a strange e-mail from field researchers. The subject line was short: "Eel in the nose".

"It was just like," We found a seal with an eel stuck in the nose, did we have a protocol? " Littnan told the Post .

There was not, Littnan said, and it took several emails and phone calls before the decision was made to grab the eel and try to pull it out.

"Actually there were only two inches of eel going on protruding from the nose, so it was very similar to the magician's trick when they pulled out handkerchiefs and keep coming, coming and going," he said.

After less than a minute of tugging, a 75 centimeter dead eel emerged from the nostril of the seal.

Since then, Littnan has said there have been at least three or four reported cases – the most recent occurring in the fall in the United States. In all cases, the eels have been successfully removed and the seals are "making great progress," he said. However, none of the eels survived.

"We have no idea why it is happening all of a sudden," Littnan said. "You see very strange things if you look at nature long enough and this could end up being one of these little quirks and mysteries of our career that in 40 years we will be retired and we will continue to question how it happened." [19659002] Researchers have already established that this is not the result of a man with a personal vendetta against seals and eels because all cases have been reported by remote islands that are frequented only by scientists. Littnan said he had some theories about how an eel could naturally end up stuck in the nostril of a seal.

The preferred prey of a seal – usually fish, octopus and, of course, eels – likes to hide inside the coral reefs to avoid being eaten, and since marine mammals have no hands, they must hunt with their faces.

"They like to put their faces in the holes of the coral reef and they will spit water out of their mouths to flush out things and do all kinds of tricks, but they are pushing their faces into holes," Littnan said.

Perhaps, he said, an eel with his back to the wall decided that the only way to escape or defend himself was to swim against his nostril assailant and young seals who "are not very adept at taking the their food "were forced to learn a hard lesson.

But Littnan said that theory did not make much sense.

"They are really rather long eels and their diameter is probably close to what it would be for a nasal passage," he said.

He added that the nostrils of a monk seal, which are closed in reflex when they dive to feed, are very muscular and it would be difficult for any animal to break through.

"I find it hard to think of an" eel "that really wants to make its way into a nose," he said.

The other way in which eels could end up in the nostrils is through vomiting. Similar to how people sometimes end up accidentally throwing food or drinks out of their noses, which could also happen to seals, which often regurgitate their meals.

However, Littnan said it did not seem possible that "a long and fat eel" would end up crossing a seal's nose rather than coming out of his mouth. The "most plausible" theory, he said, is that adolescents of monk seals are not so different from their human counterparts. The monk seals "seem naturally drawn to problematic situations," said Littnan.

"It seems almost one of those teenage trends that happen," he said. "A youthful seal did this very stupid thing and now others are trying to imitate it."

Although no seal died or was seriously affected by eels, having a dead animal on its nose for a long time lay Simeon, director of Ke Kai Ola, a Hawaii monk seal hospital run by the Marine Mammal Center .

With an 'eel inside, a monk seal would not be able to close the blocked nostril during immersion, which means that water could enter their lungs and cause problems, like pneumonia, Simeone said. A carcass of decomposing eels could also lead to infections, he said.

On Facebook, the photo of the seal has had more than 1,600 reactions since the morning of Friday morning. The caption read: "On Monday … it may not have been good for you, but it must have been better than an" eel in the nose ".

Many have expressed sympathy for the seal having to experience what a Twitter user has described as "the most uncomfortable thing ever".

"RIP eel, but how much would have been satisfactory for the seal when it was mined?" However, Littnan said the young seal "apparently seemed quite oblivious to the fact that there were two feet of eel protruding from the his face ".

In general, Simeon said that marine animals are "very stoic" "Adding," It's amazing the kind of things they can tolerate. "

While" the eel snorts "has yet to take hold in the seal community, Littnan said it hopes it never happens.

" We are hoping it will be just one of these floats that will disappear and not they could be seen more. "

If the monk seals could understand the humans, Littnan said he had a message for them:" I would kindly beg them to stop them. "

The Washington Post

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