A relaxed-looking Hawaiian monk seal lounge near a white sand beach on green foliage. His eyes are half closed and he has a calm expression on his face. But the calm attitude of the seal is surprising.
Why? Well, there's a long black and white eel hanging from his right nostril.
"It's just so shocking," said Claire Simeone, a veterinary and monk seal expert based in Hawaii, opposite the Washington Post ]. "It's an animal that has another animal in its nose."
Simeone was not the only person stunned by the photo of the seal and its unusual facial ornament shared on Facebook by National Oceanic and Atmospheric earlier this week that the administration's Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program.
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The image taken this year on the remote northwestern Hawaiian Islands is has now become viral and has drawn attention to a virus A rare phenomenon that amazes scientists who now petition the endangered seals to "make better decisions".
It all started about two years ago when Charles Littnan, senior scientist of the Monk Seals Program, got a weird email from researchers in the field. The subject line was short: "Eel in the nose."
"It was just like," We found a seal with an eel in our nostrils, do we have a record? "Littnan The Post . said in a telephone interview.
There were none, Littnan said, and it took several emails and phone calls, before the decision was made to grab the eel and try to pull it out.
"The eel in fact sticking out only two inches out of the nose like that, it was very similar to the mage's trick when they pull out the handkerchiefs and they come and come and come, "he said.
After less than a minute of pulling, two and two Half a foot of dead eel emerged from the nostril of the seal.
Since then, Littn gave At least three or four cases have been reported – the most recent one this autumn. In all cases, the eels had been successfully removed and the seals were "good," he said. However, none of the eels survived.
"We have no idea why this happens suddenly," Littnan said. "You see some very strange things when you observe nature long enough, and this could become one of those little curiosities and secrets of our career that we will not have in 40 years, and we are still challenged, like this happened. " 19659002] Researchers have already stated that this is not the result of a person having a personal vendetta against seals and eels, since all cases have been reported from remote islands visited only by scientists. Littnan said he had some theories about how to naturally clamp an eel into the nostril of a seal.
The favorite prey of a seal – usually fish, octopus and, of course, eels – likes to hide in coral reefs so as not to be eaten, and since marine mammals have no hands, they must hunt with their faces.
"They like to stick their faces in the coral reef holes and spit water out of their mouths to rinse things off and they'll do all sorts of tricks, but they'll poke their faces in holes," Littnan said.
Perhaps, he said, a cornered eel decided that the only way to escape or defend himself was to shoot up his assailant's nostrils and young seals that are "not that good yet, to get their food ", had to learn a hard lesson.
But Littnan said that theory does not make much sense.
"They are really quite long eels and their diameter is probably close to what it would be for a nasal passage," he said.
d) that the nostrils of a monk seal, which reflexively close when they dive for food, are very muscular and that it could be difficult for any animal to push through.
"I have trouble thinking of an eel that really wants to invade it," he said.
The other way eels might end up in the nostrils is throwing, just as people sometimes do Inadvertently spewing food or drinks out of their noses, this could also happen to seals that often pick up their meals.
Yet, Littnan does not seem to think that a "long, fat eel" is possible, and would eventually end up in the nose of a seal The "most plausible" theory, he said, is that monk seal teens are not too different from their human counterparts, monk seals "seem to be naturally attracted to get into difficult situations," said Littnan.
"It almost feels like one of those youthful trends that are happening," he said, "a young seal did the very stupid thing, and now the others are trying to imitate it."
Though No seals have died or been seriously affected by the eels, and a dead animal has a potentially noxious health impact for extended periods of time, said Simeone, director of Ke Kai Ola, a monk seal hospital in Hawaii, of the Navy Mammal Center is operated.
With an eel in its nose, a monk seal could not close the stuffy nostril while diving, meaning that water could get into the lungs and cause problems like pneumonia, Simeone said. A decaying Aalkadaver could also lead to infections, she said.
On Facebook, the photo of the seal had more than 1,600 responses early Friday morning. The title was, "Monday … it may not have been good for you, but it must have been better than an eel in the nose." It also became a trend on Twitter.
Many expressed their sympathy for the seal to find out what a Twitter user called "the most unpleasant thing ever".
"RIP eel, but how satisfying must this have been the seal when it was pulled out?" Another person wondered.
However, Littnan said . The post office the young seal seemed "to be obviously careless, that two eels' feet protruded from his face."
In general, Simeone said the marine animals are "very stoic" and added, "It's amazing what kind of things they can tolerate."
While "eel cold" has not yet really established itself in the seal community, Littnan hopes this will never be the case.
"We hope it's just one of those lint that will disappear and never be seen again," he said.
If monk seals could understand humans, Littnan said he had a message for them: "I would plead for them to stop."