Why Does This Seal Have An Eel Up Its Nose?

First, there was shower rat. Then, the koi-stealing otter. This week's WTF animal story centers on a Hawaiian monk seal caught in an embarrassing predicament – it had an eel stuck up its nose.

The photo was shared by the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program, a division of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), on Tuesday. Apparently, it's not the first time it's happened.

"Mondays...it might not have been a good one for you but it had to have been better than an eel in your nose," reads the caption of their post on Facebook.. 

"We have reported on this phenomenon before which was first noted a few years back. We have now found juvenile seals with eels stuck in their noses on multiple occasions."

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Charles Littnan, lead scientist and a supervisory research ecologist at the program told Motherboard it was the third or fourth seal with an eel up its nose members of the organization have spotted. But oddly enough, the bizarre phenomenon has only been recorded in the last few years. That means NOAA scientists have been tracking monkfish seals for more than four decades but only recently have seals decided to start putting eels in their noses.

Why is this happening? No one knows.

"We don't know if this is just some strange statistical anomaly or something we will see more of in the future," Littnan said

Researchers have come up with a couple of theories. It may be that the unfortunate seal swallowed the eel before regurgitating it, only for it to get stuck as it came out the wrong way. Or it may be that the eel got itself lodged in the seal's nostril during an ill-informed shot at self-defense. When seals hunt for food, they rummage around rocks and coral reefs. The eel may have been disturbed and bolted up the nostril thinking it was an adequate hiding place. 

Luckily for the monk seals involved, as blocked nostrils can lead to breathing problems. NOAA scientists have been there to offer a helping hand. In every case, the eel has been effectively removed and the seals have been unharmed. The same cannot be said for the eels, who (unfortunately) did not make it.

Monk seals are a species endemic to Hawaii and with only 1,400 or so animals left in the wild, they are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. According to IUCN, less than half of those have reached maturity. Climate change, water pollution, disease, fishing activity, parasites, and general human interference are all listed as potential threats. Organizations like the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program are working to assist the recovery process by studying their biology, ecology and natural history. 

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