KAILUA-KONA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - Four malnourished Hawaiian monk seals are getting a second chance at life.
On Wednesday, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials brought the seals from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to a specialized hospital in Kailua-Kona.
"This hospital for the first time is allowing us to, rather than turning our backs on the seals, to be able to take them somewhere where they can receive care and be able to go back to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and help the rest of their population," said Dr. Rachel Sprague, Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Coordinator for NOAA.
There are several reasons life isn't ideal for a young monk seal in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands: fierce competition for food, fishing nets, and big sharks.
Sprague says if the seals were left there, they would have died from starvation.
"Up to 80-percent of them aren't making it to reproductive age which is about five or six. So that means like four out of five pups that are born die before they can have their own pups," Sprague said.
The Marine Mammal Center’s new Hawaiian monk seal hospital is named "Ke Kai Ola" or “The Healing Sea.” The $3.2 million dollar facility is paid through private donations and is equipped with state of the art tools to help these seals get back up on their feet.
“The hospital has functioning pools and life support systems and everything they need to care for them even though the remaining part of the hospital is still under construction," said Dr. Michelle Barbieri, Conservation Veterinarian.
Barbieri said the grand opening will be in September. The public is not allowed to visit the animals. The goal is to save this endangered species that's been on the decline for decades.
“It's possible that there could be a day where there are no Hawaiian monk seals. They are certainly an endangered species and they are in a decline. But we do see some good things as well, and this hospital is one of them,” she said.
Sprague says this is not captivity, this is rehabilitation.
Once these seals are treated, they will be taken back up to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to live in the wild.