Air transport, partnership offer new weapons in fight to save endangered species

Coast Guard takes monk seals on unprecedented inter-island trip
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

Seven female monk seals were successfully transported in a U.S. Coast Guard airplane from the Marine Mammal Center in Kona to Kalaeloa on Thursday.

The operation, which represents a budding partnership between the Marine Mammal Center, NOAA and the Coast Guard, is a game changer for streamlining rehabilitation needs and release initiatives for endangered species.

David Schofield, of NOAA, told media at Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point that the seal transfer was a success.

"The seals slept the whole time,” he quipped. “We were kind of more stressed than the seals were."

And with good reason: The unprecedented transport list featured roughly three and a half tons of live, endangered cargo.

"They've gained so much weight, they've practically quadrupled their weight since they came in," he said. 

Eric Roberts, of the Coast Guard, said the logistics were a bit challenging.

"Each cage weighed upwards of 1,000 pounds and we had to carry those cages onto the plane," he said.

Once aboard, though, the seals made the 45-minute flight without a snag. From Barbers Point, they were transported to NOAA's facility on Ford Island.

"They'll be under veterinary care for 48 hours.  After 48 hours they'll be loaded onto a ship and taken to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands for release," Schofield said.

FORD ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Roberts said transporting live animals is generally a feat.

"You have to have attendants with them so it’s tough to put them on a cargo plane," he said. "You can't put them on a passenger plane, so our Coast Guard C-130's are the perfect platform."

He added, "This was a significant event. We're talking seven animals on one flight we have not done that before. This is a big step forward for our partnership and for the species itself."

Four of the seals will be tagged for tracking purposes.

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