The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world and, sad to report, another one has died, this time from ingesting a barbed hook.
That makes three monk seal deaths this year that were not from natural causes or disease.
In May, a one-year-old monk seal died after being hit by a boat and its propeller. It was found dead near Anini beach on Kauai. And then in October, a 13-year-old monk died while in the care of researchers during a routine health check-up in the northwestern Hawaiian islands.
The most recent death involved an eight-month-old researchers knew as RG03, but known more fondly as “Ola Loa.”
She often hung out near the North Shore of Oahu. “She showed a high degree of fidelity to that area,” said Charles Littman of the NOAA Hawaiian monk seal research program, “and you could spot her almost every day.”
“Ola Loa” unfortunately died from complications following surgery to remove a fishing hook that had lodged in her throat.
She was born on February 25th and was the 9th pup for mom R5AY, or “Honey Girl,” a seal who ingested a hook in 2012 and was rescued and rehabilitated by NOAA.
On December 17th, she was seen with several feet of fishing line trailing from her mouth. She returned to the water before she could be captured and assessed.
On the morning of December 27th, “Ola Loa” was spotted near Kahuku Point with the heavy gauge monofilament line still visible in her mouth. NOAA sent a team to determine if hook removal was possible on the beach, but since the hook was lodged somewhere in the throat or stomach, she was captured and transported to NOAA’s facility on Ford Island for surgical intervention.
Radiographs (x-rays) were taken immediately upon “Ola Loa’s” arrival to the hospital and a large barbed circle hook was found embedded in the back of her throat. She was given fluids and stabilized while preparations were made for surgery the following morning. The position and size of the hook, an accumulation of scar tissue, and the monk seal’s small size made for a difficult and lengthy surgery.
After several hours the hook was successfully removed. Shortly after surgery, however, the monk seal demonstrated signs of shock and other complications from the injury and extended surgery.
The team of veterinarians and researchers worked for six hours to stabilize and sustain her but were unable to keep her alive.
“This was an unfortunate accident,” Littman said, “and we need to find ways to get solutions without attacking anybody. Fishermen have to be partners, so I think probably the biggest challenge is with these hooks, in particular the barb.”
That’s why NOAA and the state are asking for fishermen to use barbless hooks. If a monk seal or even a turtle accidentally swallows a hook, like “Ola Loa” did, it’s much easier for veterinarians to remove a barbless hook without hurting the animal.
“And then the last is just common sense — if you got your line in the water and you see a seal swimming around, pull it out and wait for the seal to pass.
“I think, by and large, fishermen are doing their best,” Littman said, “but I think there’s a little bit extra more that we can be doing to help everybody out.”
If you spot a seal, whether it is in distress or not, let NOAA know:
- Hawaii Island: East: (808) 756-5961 / West: (808) 987-0765
- Kauai: (808) 651-7668
- Maui / Lanai: (808) 292-2372
- Molokai: (808) 553-5555
- Oahu: (808) 220-7802