Stowaway Seal?

Monday, August 6, 2012 - 4:11pm

Northern fur seal found in Hawaii, thousands of miles away from its natural habitat.

"At the base of the water's edge was this tiny little blob of black," Cara Ballard said.

On Tuesday morning, she and her husband, Bill, were walking the shore near Hawaii's Rocky Point when they spotted what looked like a baby monk seal.

They set up a barricade to keep people back and called NOAA.

When a seal expert arrived she told the Ballards of their unique find.

"She said, 'That's not a baby monk seal,'" Cara Ballard said.

NOAA said the animal is a Northern Fur Seal, thousands of miles from its habitat.

Home for this breed of seal are the waters from Japan through the Bering Sea to the California Coast.

So how did it get so far off track?

"Some people want to say it was on some type of a vessel, a stowaway on a vessel and got off the vessel here in Hawaii, or was on a mat of debris or something of that nature and floated down," said David Schofield, NOAA Marine Mammal Response Manager.

He said it could have gotten caught in a current.

The animal is in critical condition and severely emaciated.

"It's dehydrated," Schofield said. "We've been giving it some food. It's eaten three meals so far."

The seal's small size makes it look like a youngster, but Schofield said it appears to be a young adult female.

Initially, the seal was placed in quarantine at the Honolulu Zoo.

"We have the opportunity to take care of it for several days, if need be," zoo veterinarian Ben Okimoto said.

On Thursday, NOAA sent the seal to the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California.

A veterinarian and NOAA staff member accompanied the seal on the Fed-Ex flight.

If it survives it could be returned to the wild.

Fur seals are known to carry a virus that could be harmful to Monk Seals.

"We think that we got to it relatively quickly before another Monk Seal could encounter it," Schofield said.

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