This picture, captured this week, is only one of a handful of similar instances in recent years.
Nobody wants to be the person who has to be told they’ve got food stuck in their teeth. So imagine how it feels to be this Hawaiian monk seal, who managed to get an entire eel stuck in its nose. That seal is real mortified.
Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program, which is run by NOAA, spotted this oddity. The program spends its time observing monk seals on the northern Hawaiian islands, putting them in the perfect position to observe this awkward young seal who can’t eat eels properly.
According to the research program, this sort of weird incident isn’t actually all that uncommon. The program has spotted about three or four cases in the past few years. For some reason, every eel in this unfortunate situation has been lodged in the right nostril, which is probably a coincidence, but still weird.
Less likely to be a coincidence is the fact that this sort of thing only seems to happen to young seals. Chances are, the young seals are doing something wrong when it comes to hunting or eating that’s leading to getting eels in their noses. This sort of thing never happens to older seals, the eel-eating pros.
It’s not clear exactly what’s causing these seals to suffer from this hilarious malady, but possible explanations include the eels ramming themselves into the seal in self defense, or the seal could have sneezed while eating. In this case, the eel was only a few inches into the nostril, so the first explanation is more likely.
Either way, while we can laugh at this seal’s sorry state—and researchers have removed the eel so this one is absolutely fine—getting eels or other animals stuck in the nose can lead to health problems or infections if they’re not removed. Fortunately for the Hawaiian monk seals, they’ve got a research program watching over them.