Coast Guard personnel from Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii, recently flew some unusual precious cargo aboard a C-130 Hercules: seven endangered Hawaiian monk seals. The seals were rescued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in September 2015 and spent the past few months in protective custody at the Marine Mammal Center's Ke Kai Ola monk seal rehabilitation facility in Kona, Hawaii. Once they were deemed fit to return to the wild, the agency partnered with the Coast Guard to return the animals back to where they were found. To commemorate the conservation mission — the largest single transport of marine life by the Coast Guard in recent years — NOAA on Monday presented the air station with a series of Hawaiian monk seal decals to adorn the hull of the plane that flew the delicate creatures. A partnership between the Coast Guard, NOAA and the Marine Mammal Center is responsible for the rehabilitation and release of 15 Hawaiian monk seals, which are among the most endangered mammals native to the United States, over the course of several years. Just under 1,200 of the seals remain in their native habitat along Hawaii's coastlines. "This is a unique opportunity for the Coast Guard to play a part in the recovery of this species," said Eric Roberts, Living Marine Resource Specialist, Coast Guard 14th District. Marine-life protection is one of 11 statutory missions given to the Coast Guard by Congress and the Ocean Guardian Strategy. Since 2008, the Coast Guard 14th District has helped transport 46 animals. It's important for anyone who sees a sick or injured Hawaiian monk seal to call 888-256-9840, NOAA's marine mammal hotline, said Michelle Barbier, a NOAA wildlife veterinary medical officer. "Monk seals are really important to Hawaii because not only are they endangered, but they're also the only native [seals] to these waters," she said.
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