The Marine Mammal Center to Break Ground to Build Dedicated Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

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The new Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital is expected to be finished by spring 2013 and will usher in the beginning of an initiative to help the critically endangered population of Hawaiian monk seals.

Hawaiian monk seals

Fewer than one in five Hawaiian monk seal pups survive to make it to a second spring due to entanglement in ocean trash, changes in the food chain they depend on, and predation;” explained Dr. Frances Gulland, senior scientist at The Marine Mammal Center.

Sick and injured Hawaiian monk seals will get a second chance at survival thanks to a soon-to-be built hospital that will serve as the main hospital for the Hawaiian Islands chain, dedicated to the rescue and care of this critically endangered species. During a private blessing celebration on September 15, 2012, The Marine Mammal Center, headquartered in Sausalito, CA, will break ground for the new Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital that will be located on property owned by the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA) at Keahole Point, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Hawaiian monk seals have been on the decline since modern surveying and the population of less than 1,100 individuals is declining by 4% annually. The Center is working in collaboration with a number of groups including; NOAA Fisheries, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Team, Hawaii Wildlife Fund, the Kohala Center, NELHA, and several education organizations, in this initiative to conserve Hawaiian monk seals.

“Every year we prolong the building of this hospital is another year in which we lose monk seals that could have been saved, and that just doesn’t sit well for all of us who are dedicated to helping marine mammals;” explained Dr. Jeff Boehm, executive director at The Marine Mammal Center, which has rescued and provided medical care for more than 17,500 marine mammals along the central and northern California coast since 1975. “Now that we have the funding in place to begin building the hospital, we will lead this collaborative conservation effort and working with our partners, leverage our veterinary and scientific expertise with that of a passionate and supportive community, in order to help these animals in peril."

To date, The Marine Mammal Center has raised $1.9 million, enough to begin the first phase of construction to include building pens and pools and to have the hospital operational by spring 2013. The $3.2 million project includes two neonate rehabilitation pens and pools, quarantine pen areas, two larger pens and pools for juvenile seals, as well as medical lab, staff office and a patient food preparation kitchen. Future plans call for an education pavilion.

"Our NOAA science program staff will bring rescued Hawaiian monk seals from throughout the Hawaiian archipelago to the new hospital on Kona." explained Dr. Charles Littnan, lead Hawaiian monk seal research program scientist, NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center. "About 90% of the Hawaiian monk seal population lives where almost no one sees or interacts with them. For a number of reasons, including a lack of food and entanglement, seals have been on the decline for 30 years. After treatment at the hospital they will be returned to the area where they were rescued from.”

According to NOAA scientists, a record low of 105 Hawaiian monk seal pups were born in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands this year. While the juveniles in the area seemed to fair well this year, the decrease in the number of new pups is cause for concern for the future of the most endangered pinniped in the U.S.

“Fewer than one in five Hawaiian monk seal pups survive to make it to a second spring and that’s as a result of them getting entangled in ocean trash, changes in the food chain they depend on, and predation;” explained Dr. Frances Gulland, senior scientist at The Marine Mammal Center and member of the Hawaiian monk seal recovery team since 2001. “It is critically important that we save every Hawaiian monk seal pup now so that each female becomes available to reproduce as an adult in the future.”

The Marine Mammal Center plans on using a strong community volunteer base for rescues of injured and sick seals in and around the Mid Hawaiian Islands and for animal husbandry at the new hospital. In addition, while the Kona-based hospital will not be open to the public, the Center will conduct public outreach programs in order to educate about Hawaiian monk seals and conservation efforts.

Learn more about Hawaiian monk seals and how you can support the new Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital

Hospital Highlights:

  •     Two pens with pools for juvenile and adult seals and two pens with pools for neonates
  •     Quarantine areas
  •     Fish kitchen, medical lab and staff quarters buildings
  •     Photovoltaic panels
  •     Sustainable building materials
  •     Seawater air conditioning for the buildings
  •     Extensive seawater filtration infrastructure for pools

Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital Blessing and Groundbreaking Sept. 15, 2012.

  •     5:30 p.m. – Private celebration blessing and groundbreaking - 73-4460 Queen Kaahumanu hwy, NELHA property.
  •     7:00 p.m. – Private reception at Four Seasons Resort – 72-100 Ka’upulehu Drive, Kailua-Kona
  •     Interviews available on Sept. 15 with Dr. Jeff Boehm, executive director, The Marine Mammal Center, Dr. Frances Gulland, senior scientist at The Marine Mammal Center, and Dr. Charles Littnan, lead scientist, Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program, NOAA Fisheries Service.
  •     Media interested in scheduling interviews prior to the blessing and groundbreaking ceremony on Sept. 15 may contact Jim Oswald at (415) 289-7341. On Sept. 15, they may contact Victoria Silverman on site at (415) 342-2444.

About The Marine Mammal Center:
The Marine Mammal Center is a nonprofit veterinary hospital, research and educational center dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of ill and injured marine mammals and to the study of their health. Since 1975, the Center has been headquartered in the Marin Headlands, Sausalito, CA within the Golden Gate National Parks and has rescued and treated more than 17,500 marine mammals. The Center operates triage rescue centers in Moss Landing, CA and San Luis Obispo, CA, and maintains trained responders in Mendocino County. The Marine Mammal Center is open to the public daily 10 A.M. – 5 P.M. and gives visitors the unique opportunity to learn about marine mammals through viewing areas, educational exhibits and docent-led tours. For more information, go to:


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Jim Oswald
The Marine Mammal Center
(415) 289-7341
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