Veterinarian and seal expert Claire Simeone was just about to settle down and enjoy her lunch when her cellphone rang.
Work was calling, and as director of the Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, Simeone picked up immediately.
“As a veterinarian, I’m really on call for any type of questions or emergencies that come through,” she told The Washington Post, noting that the hospital is administering care to four endangered Hawaiian monk seals.
But when Simeone answered her phone Wednesday, she wasn’t greeted by a member of her staff calling with an urgent seal-related question. Instead, she was met with complete silence. No breathing, not even a crackle of static.
In the span of 15 minutes, Simeone’s phone rang nine times, each call identical — all from the same number and eerily silent.
“The first thing I thought was that there was some kind of an emergency because I started getting call after call in really rapid succession,” she said.
There was no seal emergency at the hospital. Just a tiny emerald green gecko with dexterous feet and access to a landline phone with a touch screen.
After receiving the barrage of bizarre calls, fearing something had happened to one of the seals, Simeone tweeted, she abandoned her lunch plans and raced back to the hospital as quickly as she could.
Arriving at the center and expecting to see staff members in a complete state of frenzy, Simeone told The Post, she found everyone outside on the patio eating their lunches, completely calm.
“I was like, ‘Guys, what’s up? What’s wrong?’ ” she said, telling her staff she had just gotten a handful of calls from them. “They said, ‘Well, nobody’s inside.’”
Then, Simeone said, her phone rang again. The call was definitely coming from inside the hospital.
“Everybody was really confused about what could have been going on,” she said.
Soon, other people started calling the hospital wondering why they were being called “incessantly,” Simeone wrote on Twitter. That’s when she and the rest of the staff realized there must be something wrong with the phones.
Searching for answers, Simeone sought help from Hawaiian Telcom, the hospital’s phone service provider.
“They were like, maybe one of your lines is on the fritz,” Simeone said.
A company representative confirmed that “a bazillion calls” were coming from one line inside the hospital. Thus began Simeone’s hunt for what she believed to be a glitchy phone.
Was it the main office line? Nope. Nor was it the phone in her personal office or the hospital’s “fish kitchen.”
“Meanwhile I’m receiving calls this whole time,” Simeone said.
Finally, Simeone entered the hospital’s laboratory, and there it was — the phone responsible for all the calls.
It was only upon closer examination of the phone that she discovered the true culprit.
“THERE IS A GECKO SITTING ON THE TOUCHSCREEN OF THE PHONE, MAKING CALLS WITH HIS TINY GECKO FEET!!!” she tweeted.
Caught red-handed — or perhaps green-footed — in the middle of a call, the mischievous critter scampered away, turning on the landline’s speakerphone in the process, Simeone said.
“I had no idea that a gecko would be heavy enough to actually work the touch screen,” she said. “Every time he shifted his foot, he would call somebody else on our recent call list.”
Geckos, found on every continent except Antarctica and particularly abundant in the Hawaiian islands, usually weigh about 3.5 ounces and vary in length from one to 12 inches. Simeone said the phone-obsessed reptile, which was not a patient at the hospital, was about six inches long, including its tail. She added that the gecko was probably attracted to the warmth of the phone’s touch screen.
The Hawaiian Telcom representative was equally surprised when Simeone explained the situation, remarking, “Well, I haven’t heard that one before,” according to her tweet.
The wily interloper, however, wasn’t done with the games just yet.
Simeone said she got another call and went back into the lab to find the gecko once again perched on the touch screen. This time, she said, she managed to catch the gecko and return it outside to a much more suitable leaf.
“He is all good,” Simeone said with a laugh.
In fact, the gecko is more than good. It’s employed at the hospital.
“Well he’s definitely not in telecommunications,” Simeone said, when asked to elaborate on the gecko’s new job. “He is one of our guest experience specialists now.”
This is a real position, part of the hospital’s education team dedicated to making sure everyone who comes for a visit has a great experience, Simeone said.
“I’d say he’s thriving at that now,” she said.
On social media, each of Simeone’s tweets has been liked thousands of times.
“I’d totally answer the phone if a gecko was calling me,” one person tweeted.
Simeone said “it totally tickles” her to see all the responses, adding that many people can relate to receiving random calls, albeit largely from telemarketers or wrong numbers, not geckos.
“People really connect with that experience but also find it totally ridiculous that this happened,” she said.
More from Morning Mix: