HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An endangered Hawaiian monk seal is recovering after a major surgery to remove her right eye. It was no small task. Antibiotics given to her in the wild didn't work so the Coast Guard had to fly the animal from Kauai to Honolulu where a team of professionals came together to operate on the animal.
The seal named R1KU is only about a year or so old and weighs 95 pounds. She was diagnosed with an ugly eye infection that would likely get worse and lead to early death.
"They are sometimes right on the edge of surviving and a little thing here or a little thing there could be just enough to push them over that edge," said Dr. Michelle Barbieri, The Marine Mammal Center Veterinarian.
Doctors put her under anesthesia and removed her right eye. It wasn't working anyway. It's unknown what caused her injury although doctors did see a scar outside her eye.
"We could see something had ripped down and punctured the eyeball itself and the lower eyelid had a laceration as well. So it is very likely it was snagged on something. Whether that was human related we'll probably never tell," said Dr. Barbieri.
Her post surgery meal was fish of course. She is eating well which is encouraging and doctors say having one eye shouldn't slow her down.
"Seals with one eye in the wild can do quite well," said Dr. Barbieri. "She still will face the same threats as any other wild seal but her chance of survival related to this particular traumatic injury is much improved."
Why go to such great lengths for just one animal? There are only 1,100 monk seals left in the world. It's the most critically endangered marine mammal in the country.
"This is a female and they are very important to the breeding cycle," said David Schofield, NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Response Coordinator. "This being a young female a few years away from sexual maturity, getting her healthy and back out into the system is really important to the recovery of the whole population."
They will eventually reintroduce her back into the ocean when she's well enough to fend for herself.
NOAA didn't have an exact number of what it's all cost, but Schofield said it was minimal.
The Coast Guard was doing a training missing anyway so airlifting it didn't add expenses. Most of the veterinarians donated their time and supplies. It partnered with the Honolulu Zoo where the surgery was performed. And NOAA staffers are working normal hours.