HAWAII -- A photo of an eel stuck in the nose of an endangered seal in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands has gone viral.

Even though researchers say it's not the first time they've seen such a thing, they're not sure why it keeps happening.

The mammal in the photo is a Hawaiian monk seal.

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have been monitoring the species for four decades. In the last few years, however, they've started noticing eels stuck up the seals' noses.

"Our researchers have observed this phenomenon three or four times now," the NOAA wrote in a statement.

Right now, researchers can't tell if it's some "strange statistical anomaly" or if more eels in seals will begin appearing.

Hawaiian monk seals search for food by shoving their noses into small places like the crevasses of coral reefs.

"They are looking for prey that likes to hide, like eels," the NOAA explained. "This may be a case of an eel that was cornered trying to defend itself or escape. Alternatively, the seal could have swallowed the eel and regurgitated it so that the eel came out the wrong way. We might never know."

Response teams have been able to catch the seals in these predicaments and safely remove the eels. All the seals were subsequently released back into the wild and the eels haven't seemed to have any lasting issues.

Make it easy to keep up-to-date with more stories like this. Download the 10 News app now.

Have a news tip? Email tips@wtsp.com, visit our Facebook page or Twitter feed.