NOAA Fisheries/Brittany Dolan
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December 06, 2018 02:40 PM

Even paradise has its problems.

Hawaiian monk seals are making headlines thanks to a photo by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration‘s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program. The shot shows a sleepy seal staring at the camera while lounging on the French Frigate Shoals in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Everything appears normal in the picture. Except … is that an eel coming out of his nose?!

The uncomfortable sight on the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program Facebook page has received over 1,000 shares, and left many wondering what is going on.

The program answered the question: “We don’t know.”

According to the NOAA website, researchers started spotting eels in seals’ noses just a few years ago, even though the Hawaiian monk seals have been monitored for over 40 years due to their status as a protected endangered species.

“We don’t know if this is just some strange statistical anomaly or something we will see more of in the future.” NOAA says of the slippery phenomenon, which has been recorded several times.

What they do know: All the seals they have found sporting this peculiar nose accessory are doing fine.

“All of the seals that we have encountered in this slippery situation have been quickly caught by our response teams and the eel gently and successfully removed. All the seals were released and haven’t shown any issues from the incidents,” NOAA adds.

Researchers aren’t certain how eels end up in this tight spot, but they have a few ideas. Since Hawaiian monk seals forage for food by shoving their face into the tight space around coral reefs, it is possible that the occasionally cornered eel could mistake a seal’s nostril for an escape route. Another theory is that seals trying to regurgitate swallowed eels might accidentally send the slippery fish out the wrong hole.

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