Endangered Hawaiian monk seals face new challenge: eels stuck up their noses

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Apparently the research org has only started seeing the eel-in-seal phenomenon within the last few years, despite having been researching the seals for more than four decades.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program reported on a squicky find this week when it shared a Facebook photo of a seal with a spotted eel dangling from its nose.

The post said that it had removed eels from the noses of several seals they're monitoring and that the seals were unharmed in every case, but the same couldn't be said for the eels. "All of the seals that we have encountered in this slippery situation have been quickly caught by our response teams and the eel gently and successfully removed", the agency said. "The eels, however, did not make it", writes marine biologist Brittany Dolan in the Facebook post.

And, the phenomenon has only popped up recently. "We don't know if this is just some unusual statistical anomaly or something we will see more of in the future", the NOAA wrote. "You know what they say". Only about 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals remain in the wild, with the majority residing in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Good news, though, at least for the seal.

Given the challenges these seals are already facing, the NOAA is keeping quiet about where exactly the pups have been born, and is asking the public to please keep away if they come across one of these pairs.

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Yes, that's an eel in a seal.

Either way, all can agree it doesn't look comfortable.

They've told the media they really have no idea what's causing the spike in eel-related incidents. Since Hawaiian monk seals forage for food by shoving their face into the tight space around coral reefs, it is possible that the occasionally cornered eel could mistake a seal's nostril for an escape route.

But, the researchers note, 'we might not ever know'.

Or, just like in the YouTube videos where people sneeze and spit up long strands of pasta through their noses, the seal could have regurgitated an eel that it ate, with the eel coming out the wrong pipe, Littnan said.

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