Hō'ailona, a monk seal, has become an important instrument for understanding the endangered species. Because of their small number, about 1,100 seals, there has not been a lot of opportunity for studying these incredible animals. Hō'ailona was born in Hawaii in May 2008 and was abandoned by his mother shortly after. He was rescued and cared for by scientists who released him back into the wild in the winter of 2008.
Because he had gotten used to being around humans, Hō'ailona was not ready to be in the wild and he interacted with the people on the beaches of Hawaii. Because the people feared that he was in danger of hurting himself or other people, he was recaptured and was taken to a facility where he could be taken care of and eventually be released back into the wild. Before he was going to be relocated and released, a veterinarian check-up found that Hō'ailona had an eye problem: cataracts. At the discovery of this information, the NOAA decided that he should not be released back into the wild.
Scientists have used Hō'ailona to do some experimental studies to begin to understand the monk seal. Studies of other seals have been conducted to understand their metabolism and of how their energy is used. They are also doing different tests to figure out what effect temperature differences have on the metabolism of Hō'ailona. These studies are hopefully going to help provide information on how habitats for these endangered animals can be improved and/or maintained and preserved.
Because Hō'ailona has spent so much time in captivity and because of his eye problem, he will more than likely not be released back into the wild. The people that are responsible for him now have decided that they may eventually put him on display for the public so that they can see the monk seal. The studies that are being done on Hō'ailona are going to be very useful in raising awareness about monk seals and possibly other species of endangered seals as well.