Maui News

Reporting Could Have Prevented Monk Seal Death

February 6, 2013, 8:24 AM HST
* Updated February 6, 8:26 AM
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Hooks from another seal, RT12, after removal.  Photo courtesy DLNR.

Hooks from another seal, RT12, after removal. Photo courtesy DLNR.

By Wendy Osher

State and federal authorities have confirmed the death of a juvenile male monk seal that was flown from the Big Island to Oahu on Friday after exhibiting what appeared to be breathing difficulties.

A necropsy of the animal revealed that he suffered fractured ribs earlier in life, but ingestion of a fishing hook more recently is believed to be the cause of death.

Officials from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are saying that the death could have been prevented with earlier reporting.

The seal, known as RK68, could have been hooked for several weeks or months, according to authorities.

Team removing hook from another seal, RT12.  Photo courtesy DLNR.

Team removing hook from another seal, RT12. Photo courtesy DLNR.

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NOAA officials note that monk seal hookings appear to be increasing. There were nine reported hookings in 2011; and 15 hookings reported in 2012 that resulted in three deaths.

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“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,” said Aila.

“Hooking a monk seal is often preventable, but we know sometimes things happen beyond a fisherman’s control. However, reporting is almost always within our control, and when someone observes a hooking and doesn’t call it in, it means an unfortunate incident can go from bad to worse, and become fatal for the seal,” said Aila.

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The toll-free, 24/7 reporting hotline for all fishery interactions and other marine mammal incidents is 1-888-256-9840.  DLNR and NOAA Fisheries urge all fishermen and other ocean users to write down the hotline and save it in their mobile phones for timely use whenever a seal is hooked or entangled.

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