Monk seals caught with “eels in noses” is apparently a thing

And you thought toddlers stuffing peas up their nose was bad.

Fisheries officials have spotted something that tops it: Seals with eels shoved up their nostrils.

“In the nearly 40 years that we have been working to monitor and protect endangered Hawaiian monk seals, we have only started seeing ‘eels in noses’ in the last few years,” the  said this week. “Yet, our researchers have observed this phenomenon three or four times now. We don’t know if this is just some strange statistical anomaly or if we will see more eels in seals in the future.”

There are a few theories.

A juvenile Hawaiian monk seal was found with a spotted eel in its nose at French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands this past summer. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Brittany Dolan

First, there’s the way Hawaiian monk seals find food.

They forage by shoving their mouth and nose into the crevasses of coral reefs, under rocks, or into the sand, NOAA explained.

These are places eels like to hide.

So, it’s possible the eels have been cornered and either tried escape or defend themselves. Either way, it ended up tangled up in a seal’s nose rather than free.

The other equally gross theory: The seal could have swallowed the eel and then regurgitated it. But the eel came out the wrong way.

“We might never know,” officials said.

There is also some less icky good news.

“All of the seals that we have encountered in this slippery situation have been quickly caught by our response teams and the eel gently and successfully removed,” NOAA Fisheries added. “The seals were released and haven’t shown any issues from the incidents.”

Photos NOAA Fisheries

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About the Author

Dawn Walton

Recovering newspaper reporter.

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