KAILUA-KONA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - By: Taylor Preza & Chris Tanaka
Sick and injured Hawaiian monk seals will get a second chance at survival thanks to The Marine Mammal Center's new Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital.
The new hospital is dedicated to the rescue and care of this critically endangered species.
On Tuesday The Marine Mammal Center held a Grand Opening celebration and blessing at the new $3.2 million facility, which has been named Ke Kai Ola (The Healing Sea).
During the day the center held a limited number of behind-the-scene tours for guests.
In addition to celebrating this milestone, the Center also celebrated the release of the first four patients treated at the hospital.
Four young, malnourished monk seals were admitted to Ke Kai Ola on July 9 after being rescued in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The Center's veterinary experts and trained volunteers cared for the seals until they were healthy enough to return to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands on August 31.
The new Ke Kai Ola Hospital is built specifically to protect the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal. As one of the rarest marine mammals in the world, the Hawaiian Monk Seal is in dire need of protection. With an estimated total population of only 1,200 individuals, the new Ke Kai Ola Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital will serve as ground-zero for a species facing extinction.
"We built this hospital to save a species," says Dr. Jeff Boehm, executive director at The Marine Mammal Center. "Thanks to funding from the Firedoll Foundation as well as a generous family foundation and hundreds of donors throughout the world, this hospital can now provide life-saving medical care."
The Hawaiian monk seal population is estimated at fewer than 1,100 individuals and continues to decline. Fewer than one in five pups in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands survive their first year due to threats like entanglement in ocean trash, changes in the food chain and predation.
"It takes a village to care for sick or injured monk seals," says Dr. Frances Gulland, Marine Mammal Commissioner and senior scientist at The Marine Mammal Center. "We are honored to bring our veterinary and husbandry experience and now partner with the National Marine Fisheries Service, whose work to date is responsible for saving about 30 percent of the monk seals alive today."
With the help of community volunteers, the Center will also conduct public outreach programs to provide education about Hawaiian monk seals and conservation efforts.
Since 1975, the Center has rescued more than 18,500 marine mammals.