No One Understands Why Eels Keep Getting Stuck up Seals' Noses

Illustration for article titled No One Understands Why Eels Keep Getting Stuck up Seals Noses
Image: Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program

There’s a very cute and slightly worrying picture making the rounds on the Internet of a seal that appears to have affixed a playful kitty cat tail to the wrong end of its body. In fact, seals have no use for cat costumes, and this is an image of a Hawaiian monk seal with an eel up its nose. Ah, of course, eels: the cocaine of the animal kingdom.

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The image, which was taken over the summer, was first shared on Facebook on Monday by the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program, a division of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration. Charles Littan, lead scientist and supervisory research ecologist at the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program told Motherboard on Thursday that, “this is the third or fourth case of an eel in the nose that we’ve observed.” Littnan told The Guardian that this phenomenon is relatively new: “We’ve been intensively monitoring monk seals for four decades and in all of that time nothing like this has happened.” The first sighting of the unbalanced creature configuration occurred in the summer of 2016.

No one knows for sure why the eels are suddenly dangling in droves from seal nostrils, but Littnan speculates it could do with the seals’ feeding habits. “Monk seals forage by shoving their mouth and nose into crevasses in coral reefs, under rocks, or into the sand,” all places an eel might grab on in self-defense, Littnan explained.

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Another possibility: “Alternatively, it could be the seal swallowed an eel and regurgitated it with the eel subsequently coming out the wrong way.” Okay but let’s get that on video next time! Littnan’s best guess? “If I had to guess,” he told The Guardian, “I would say that it’s one of those strange oddities. If you observe nature long enough, you’ll see strange things.”

The Guardian reports that in all cases where an eel has been found up a seal’s nose, the animals have been successfully separated. Someday this will make a great children’s book.

contributing writer, nights

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DISCUSSION

I feel like there should be some Seal News and the leading story is “What young seals are doing now will shock you! Tonight our reporter talks about the new craze hitting the beach this fall Ealing and how you can identify if your seal pup is doing it too.”