Featured Image Credit:Wikimedia Commons
By Emily Persico
Minnesota Zoo is the only facility in the lower 48 states with Hawaiian monk seals, and the zoo’s using this distinction to help save the seals from extinction. To do this, zookeepers are researching how these clever creatures take their fish from a feeding station.
“[Being] able to better understand the methods they use to capture food and prey when they are out in the wild is something that potentially used by research to help better areas for monk seals to live out in the wild,” explains Latoshia Eshek of the Minnesota Zoo.
Researching monk seal eating habits is harder than it may seem. Having them in captivity in the first place is already an unlikely event. The Minnesota Zoo acquired its five females in May 2015. These non-releasable seals were found starving in the wild and brought back to the zoo for rehabilitation.
“Only one in five make it to adulthood because it’s really hard for them to find enough food,” says Eshek.
Once rehabilitated to the extent possible, each of the seals was trained to find and take fish from a feeding station, which was uniquely designed for the study by PhD student Sarah Kienle of the University of California. From here, researchers observed the seals taking their food, using either a biting method or suction.
These research efforts are just a slice of what will be necessary to save the 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals left in the wild. The marine mammals are critically endangered. They live entirely in North America waters, which means it is up to us and us alone to save them from their threats human-caused threats, which include beach crowding and recreational and commercial fishing.
Learn more about the Minnesota Zoo’s Hawaiian monk seals here, or watch shows in person daily at 12:00 PM or 2:00 PM.