Why have seals been getting eels stuck up their noses?

Federico Mansilla
Diciembre 7, 2018

This phenomenon, eels getting stuck in seals' noses, is rare; the team has observed only three or four cases of eel-nose in the past four decades, said Charles Littnan, a monk seal conservation biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries.

No, it's not a tongue-twister for your office Christmas party, it's something that's actually been happening in Hawaii.

On Monday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program posted to its Facebook page a photo of a juvenile monk seal with what appears to be a spotted eel in its nose.

'In all cases the eel was successfully removed and the seals were fine.

"If I had to guess, I would say that it's one of those strange oddities", Littnan said.

'We don't know if this is just some odd statistical anomaly or something we will see more of in the future, ' the NOAA post notes.

"Mondays...it might not have been a good one for you but it had to have been better than an eel in your nose", said the post.

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As to how the eel gets stuck, Littnan has several ideas.

'They are looking for prey that likes to hide, like eels. Since this phenomenon has been observed only in juvenile seals, Littnan said it could also just be that the seals are inexperienced at hunting.

In this case, a relatively small part of the eel is in the nose, which "leads me to thinking that the eel forced itself in while trying to escape", Littnan said.

The administration said it has seen the same "eels in noses" phenomenon almost a handful of times in the last few years.

The vet tried to remove the eel with "quick handling" because breathing problems would be exacerbated if the seal tried to swim or dive. Alternatively, the seal could have swallowed the eel and regurgitated it so that the eel came out the wrong way. But the eel may have gotten deeper into the nose, preventing the seal from removing the invader. Except ... is that an eel coming out of his nose?!

According to the NOAA Fisheries, researchers recorded a record number of pups born to the endangered Hawaiian monk seals on the main Hawaiian islands in 2018.

The refreshing news comes as researchers work to protect the endangered species, which is one of just two species of monk seal still in existence.

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