Teen seals are seen with eels sticking out of their noses in what is clearly a rebellious phase gone too far.
We all go through that teenage phase where tattoos and piercings seem cool and not at all dangerous or life-changing. Some even go as far as experimenting with (usually illegal) drugs or other mind-altering chemicals, or even--dare we say it--rock music.
Seals are just like people, in the sense that they also go through a rebellious phase. Only instead of slamming the door on their parents while storming off into their rooms, they stick eels down their noses. Rebellion is rebellion, and it doesn’t matter what it looks like.
Even though to us it looks awfully strange to have an eel sticking out of your nose.
We’re only guessing that it’s teen rebellion causing these juvenile Hawaiian monk seals to have eels stuck on their noses. The truth is, we have no idea what’s actually going on.
In a post to the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program’s Facebook page on Monday, researchers revealed the latest discovery of a juvenile monk seal with an eel nose. The program reports that they’ve seen eel-nosed monk seals on multiple occasions over the past couple of years, and although certainly rare, it’s usually the juveniles that get a new nose ornament.
Speaking with Live Science, monk seal conservation biologist Charles Littnan said this is only a recent phenomenon that’s spooking scientists in the Pacific.
"We have no idea why it's happening,” Littan said. "In almost 40 years of monitoring, we have actually never observed this until a few years ago."
Littan has a few theories as to how this strange eel-nose phenomenon became a thing. Theory one involves a terrified eel making the wrong choice on where to hide from a hungry seal. Monk seals normally prefer to eat octopuses on the seafloor and around coral reefs, tossing over rocks and debris in their search. If instead they find an eel, the eel might freak out and try to hide, mistaking the seal’s nose as a useful crevice to escape.
Another theory is that the juvenile is simply an inexperienced hunter and is unable to down the eel before it manages to escape by lodging itself into the seal’s nostril. This still doesn’t work out for the eel as it can’t breathe inside the seal’s nostril as there’s no water there, which causes the eel to perish.
As you can imagine, it’s not great for the seal to have a dead eel in their nose. It can start to decay and cause infection, or just make it harder for the seal to breathe. Researchers have thus far been able to remove the dead eels from every example they’ve come across.