UPDATE: Monk Seal Likely Died From Ingested Fish Hook
***Update posted at 12:50 p.m., Feb. 5.***
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources today said that a juvenile Hawaiian monk seal flown to Oahu for medical treatment Friday probably died from an ingested fish hook.
DLNR officials said a necropsy revealed that the young male seal had suffered fractured ribs earlier in its life, but the death was likely the result of being hooked several weeks or months earlier.
They said the incident underscores the importance of reporting hookings to wildlife officials at the time they occur to increase the animal’s chances of survival.
“Early reporting of a monk seal hooking can possibly mean the difference between life and death for one of these critically endangered animals,” said DLNR Chairperson William J. Aila, Jr. “We rely on the community to be active and mindful stewards of our oceans. Had someone come forward, even anonymously, to report this hooking when it occurred, we may have been able to save his life.”
According to NOAA officials, monk seal hookings appear to be increasing.
Fifteen such incidents occurred last year, three of which resulted in the seals’ deaths. Nine hookings were reported in 2011, although none of those resulted in a fatality.
Another seal reported with a hook in its tongue Monday on Kauai will apparently survive.
The death of the seal tagged as “RK68” was the first monk seal death of the year in the state, and, according to existing records, apparently the first-ever related to the Big Island.
Mayor Billy Kenoi said his administration will be encouraging Big Island residents and visitors to report any injured or distressed seals to the DLNR. Informational materials will be provided at parks to alert the public to such situations, he said.
“It is certainly discouraging to see the number of hookings continue to increase, but it is alarming when monk seals lives are needlessly put at greater risk because people fail to report hookings as they occur,” Charles Littnan, lead scientist with NOAA’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Program, said in a statement.
“Many people today use the term ‘kuleana,’ but we all must remember that kuleana is not just about our rights, it is also about our responsibilities.” Aila added. “Our community has a responsibility to help manage and care for Hawaiian monk seals.”
The toll-free, around-the-clock reporting hotline for all fishery interactions and other marine mammal incidents is 1-888-256-9840.
The DLNR and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries urge all fishermen and other ocean users to write down this hotline or save it in their mobile phones for timely use whenever a seal is hooked or entangled.
Posted at 5:51 p.m., Feb. 4:
A juvenile Hawaiian monk seal with respiratory troubles transported Friday from the Big Island to Oahu has reportedly died.
The male monk seal known as “K68” was observed with breathing difficulties, but a diagnosis was not possible in the field so it was necessary to bring the seal to a care facility on Oahu, said Dr. Jeff Walters, chief of the Marine Mammal Branch for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The seal was transported by a Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules aircraft from Kona International Airport to Honolulu. From there it was taken to the Waikiki Aquarium for a diagnosis using x-ray and ultrasound by veterinarians from NOAA’s Fisheries Service.
It reportedly died Friday afternoon.
Safeguarding marine mammals is part of the Coast Guard’s mission, a spokesman said. Other such efforts include Operation Kohola Guardian patrols during peak humpback whale season by the Coast Guard, NOAA and state wildlife officials.
Also last week, a one-year-old female Hawaiian monk was found on Rabbit Island off Oahu’s eastern shore with a three-pronged spear lodged in its head.
Officials from the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program were able to successfully remove the spear and the seal is expected to make a full recovery. The incident is being investigated by federal officials.
According to NOAA, there are less than 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals remaining, making them among the most endangered animals in the world.
Most of the seals live in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands where their population is declining. In recent years there have been more births in the main Hawaiian Islands where about 150 seals live.
The Hawaiian monk seal and the hoary bat are the only two mammals endemic to Hawaii.