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Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovering at Ke Kai Ola Following Surgery for Hook Removal

April 14, 2022, 11:23 AM HST
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A juvenile male Hawaiian monk seal is recovering at Hawaiʻi Island’s Marine Mammal Center, Ke Kai Ola following surgery to remove an ingested hook.

Members of the public first caught sight of RL72 on Maui’s Kapalua Oneloa Beach the morning of March 30. He had approximately 3–4 feet of monofilament line trailing from his mouth, suggesting he ingested a hook. The public reported the incident to the NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline and provided photos from a camera zoom lens, which clearly showed both the fishing line and the seal’s flipper identification tag.

“The successful effort to dehook RL72 was quite complex and required surgery under anesthesia to remove the hook from the animal’s esophagus,” said Dr. Sophie Whoriskey, the Center’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation veterinarian. “This was an incredible team effort to help give this suffering monk seal a second chance at life and is a testament to the ongoing partnerships to help save this endangered species.”

RL72’s rescue was initiated by Maui staff from NOAA Fisheries and State of Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources. Officials say this was no simple matter.

The vehicle parking area was far from the seal and up a hill. Rather than try to carry the 400-pound animal in a cage across sand, the team decided the boardwalk route was the best option—though this option still required a trek uphill via a short, narrow trail.

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The last leg of the route was a staircase that was simply too narrow to fit the seal’s cage and its haulers. The team found a nearby property owner willing to provide an alternate route through a locked easement near the stairs.

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The next day, NOAA Fisheries and partners boarded RL72 on a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 plane, and the seal flew from Maui to Ke Kai Ola on Hawaiʻi Island.

After the surgery on April 7, the Center’s veterinary experts reported that RL72 was stable, comfortable, and alert. The team noted RL72 is in great body condition and plans to give the seal antibiotics, fluids, and pain medications as he recovers post-surgery. In addition, analysis from a series of blood samples taken during the initial care process showed no signs of illness or disease. No estimated timetable for release has been determined. The seal will be assessed regularly to determine when his recovery from the surgery is complete and release is appropriate.

Ingesting a hook can be life-threatening for a seal, and prompt removal is critical to survival.

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“Thanks to quick responses by NOAA Fisheries, our partners, volunteers, and the public, the hooked juvenile male monk seal RL72 is now hook-free,” NOAA officials stated. “He is safely rehabilitating at The Marine Mammal Center’s Hawaiian monk seal hospital and visitor center on Hawaiʻi Island, Ke Kai Ola.”

This positive outcome would not have been possible without NOAA partners, as well as the public’s prompt reporting. This story is a reminder to report any seal—even those that do not appear to need help—to the statewide NOAA Marine Hotline at 888-256-9840.

Since 2014, the Center has rehabilitated and released 37 monk seals, most of which have been rescued from and returned to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as part of the Center’s partnership with NOAA Fisheries The center uses resources in the area to identify seals in need, rescue and rehabilitate them, and give them a chance to return to their ocean home.

Approximately 30% of Hawaiian monk seals that are alive today are due to conservation efforts led by NOAA Fisheries and partners.

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