Maui News

Saving a Species: Hawaiian Monk Seal Rehabilitation Zoom Presentation, Aug. 4

July 29, 2021, 9:35 AM HST
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Hawaiian monk seals RK26 (on left) and RL50 (on right) rest on a beach. As the world’s largest marine mammal hospital, The Marine Mammal Center actively monitors endangered monk seals that frequent Big Island beaches to check on their condition, but its experts do not serve in a law enforcement capacity. Credit Sheila Latta / The Marine Mammal Center

Hawaiian monk seals are endangered, with fewer than 1,400 animals left on earth — yet they have recently been in the news, as videos and photos have surfaced showing the seals falling victim to harassment by visitors who get too close or attempt to touch them, sometimes for social media content.

The public is invited to learn more about Hawaiian monk seals at a free presentation entitled “Saving a Species: Rehabilitation as a Conservation Tool for Hawaiian Monk Seals” on Wednesday, Aug. 4 at 5:30 p.m. HST via Zoom where two special guests from The Marine Mammal Center’s dedicated hospital for monk seals, Ke Kai Ola, on Hawaiʻi Island will highlight their conservation and outreach work.

The Center’s Lauren Van Heukelem, Response and Operations Coordinator, and Dr. Sophie Whoriskey, Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Veterinarian, will speak at this event, part of the “Know Your Ocean Speaker Series” which is hosted each month by Maui Nui Marine Resource Council.

Researchers estimate that about 30% of Hawaiian monk seals are alive today due to conservation efforts led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and partners like The Marine Mammal Center. The mission of The Marine Mammal Center focuses on global ocean conservation through rescue and rehabilitation, scientific research, and education.

To reserve a spot at the free presentation visit https://www.bitly.com/monksealwebinar

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“We are hosting this special presentation with the awareness that public education is needed to help protect our Hawaiian monk seals from harassment or injury,” said Anne Rillero, Communications Manager at Maui Nui Marine Resource Council. “These animals are among the most endangered seals on earth.”

Eleu (PP08), a weaned female Hawaiian monk seal pup rescued from Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument Refuge, rests during rehabilitation at The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola hospital and visitor center in Kailua-Kona, HI. The young female seal’s name means one that is active, alert, energetic, lively and nimble. Credit Lauren Van Heukelem / The Marine Mammal Center, NOAA Permit #18786-03
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Dr. Whoriskey received her bachelor’s degree from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, and her veterinary medical degree from the Atlantic Veterinary College. She first came to The Marine Mammal Center in 2015 as the intern veterinarian in marine mammal medicine and pathology where she spent two years training with marine mammal medicine experts.

In 2020, she returned to the Center as a full-time Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Veterinarian. She leads the Center’s Hawaiʻi animal care operations, dedicated to the rehabilitation, conservation and research of the endangered Hawaiian monk seal.

Whoriskey has extensive field experience in remote and harsh environments and has participated in research projects from Alaska to Antarctica, all with a mission of advancing the global body of knowledge on marine mammal health.

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Born and raised in Hawaiʻi, Van Heukelem received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in Marine Biology. She has participated in many research studies both in Hawaiʻi and the Northern Mariana Islands on various topics.

As the Response and Operations Coordinator, Van Heukelem oversees the monitoring of the endangered Hawaiian monk seal population on Hawaiʻi Island. She runs the Center’s 24-hour hotline for reporting seal sightings around the island and coordinates outreach and population assessments on a daily basis.

“On Hawaiʻi Island, we operate Ke Kai Ola, the only hospital dedicated to Hawaiian monk seals, providing support for monk seals found throughout the Hawaiʻi archipelago,” says Van Heukelem. “Utilizing a 24-hour response hotline and a variety of education and outreach programs, we aim to advance conservation practices that empower our local community to protect this rare species.”

This presentation will focus on the center’s mission and work over the past 45 years in California and Hawaiʻi. Since opening Ke Kai Ola in 2014, The Marine Mammal Center has treated 36 Hawaiian monk seals and supports the work of NOAA’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program by providing the only long-term care facility for this endangered animal.

These monthly virtual events are supported by the County of Maui Mayor’s Office of Economic Development.

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