Coast Guard crews had an important medical transport from Kauai to Oahu, Hawaii, and back again. The mission required many agencies working together to ensure the precious cargo was safe. Their cargo? R1KU, an endangered Hawaiian monk seal.
Hawaiian monk seals like R1KU are one of the rarest marine mammals in the world with an estimated population of 1,200. Part of the true seal family, they are one of only two remaining monk seal species.
This particular transport, with the support of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, required two independent missions. The first involved a Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point C-130 airplane transporting the ill animal from Kauai to Oahu for medical care. There, R1KU underwent surgery to remove a life-threatening infection in her eye.
Not long after surgery, the Hawaiian monk seal was medically cleared for release and an H-65 helicopter supported the second flight to transport the animal from Oahu back to Kauai. It was a first for the air station, as the facility had just opened a new landing area.
“We were able to land within yards of the rehab center eliminating the one-hour land transport from the facility to our air station and the additional stress placed on the animal,” said Eric Roberts, marine mammal response coordinator for the 14th Coast Guard District.
Now back in Kauai, the seal will be reintroduced into the ocean after a full recovery from the surgery and eye infection.
Safeguarding marine mammals falls under the Coast Guard’s living marine resources mission, one of the service’s 11 statutory missions. The nation’s waterways and their ecosystems are vital to the country’s economy and health. This includes ensuring the country’s marine protected species are provided the protection necessary to help their populations recover to healthy, sustainable levels.
Coast Guard units in Hawaii partner with NOAA often on living marine resources missions. In fact, the 14th Coast Guard District is home to four marine national monuments and two national marine sanctuaries, more than any other region in the United States.
“Our Coast Guard men and women take pride in our unique operational ability to help recover and maintain our nation’s marine protected species,” said Roberts. “The transport of this critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal showcases the multiagency efforts that are being coordinated to ensure this species is around for future generations.”