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Hawaiian Monk Seal Released Back to Wild After Successful Removal of Ingested Fishing Gear

July 13, 2022, 12:16 PM HST
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A Hawaiian monk seal has been released back to the wild after being treated at Kona’s Marine Mammal Center, Ke Kai Ola, for ingested fishing gear.

With help from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s coordinating partners, RP92 was transported from Kona back to Moloka‘i where it was found aboard a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter on July 8. The seal was fitted with a temporary satellite tag and successfully released.

RP92 was found by the National Park Service on Moloka‘i last month where the animal appeared to be in distress with fishing gear hanging from its mouth.

“Our team is thrilled to release RP92 back to the wild after he made a full recovery from a complex procedure to remove a swallowed fishing hook, an incredible success story,” said Sophie Whoriskey, the Center’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Veterinarian. “This seal’s story reemphasizes the importance of our ongoing partnerships to help save this species when the survival of each individual is critical to the recovery of the population.”

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The Center’s team utilized special dehooking tools while RP92 was under anesthesia to safely remove the ingested hook near the animal’s larynx, avoiding a more complex surgery and recovery. Analysis from a series of blood and fecal samples taken during the initial care process showed no signs of illness, including toxoplasmosis. After the endoscopy procedure, veterinary experts noted the animal was recovering well.

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After gaining more than 25 pounds during his more than five weeks in rehabilitation, the Center recommended his release, and NOAA initiated release plans.

“The life of each monk seal is critically important, especially since there are just over 1,500 left in the world,” said Diana Kramer, NOAA Fisheries Protected Resources Division, Pacific Islands Region.

Kramer said she was thankful to the partners that helped make RP92’s recovery and release possible, adding her excitement regarding the satellite tag which she says will reveal more about the seal’s life and movements.

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“There is so much these animals can teach us,” Kramer said. “We hope to use the information gained from RP92’s tag to track his success, and also for broader population recovery efforts.”

Since 2014, the Center has rehabilitated and released 38 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, utilizing resources in the area to identify seals in need, rescue and rehabilitate them, and give them a second chance at life.

The Center’s partnership with NOAA Fisheries and other cooperating agencies is more important than ever to prevent this endangered species from becoming extinct. Approximately 30% of monk seals that are alive today are due to conservation efforts led by NOAA Fisheries and partners like The Marine Mammal Center.

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