Scientists baffled after Hawaiian monk seal found dead in West Oahu

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A Hawaiian monk seal was found dead in West Oahu over the weekend.

RT12, or Kimo Kai, was found dead rolling in the wave wash on Easter Sunday at Tracks Beach in Nanakuli.

The 6-year old monk seal was found by volunteers who help look out for monk seals.

He’s the fourth monk seal to die so far this year. Last year, there were 10. Veterinarians do not believe the deaths are related.

RT12 was born on the north shore of Kauai in 2010, but frequented the west side of Oahu. There were 91 reported sightings of him on Oahu in 2015 alone, and recent sightings showed him in good health. The monk seal had also been sighted at Kaena Point and on Rabbit Island.

A necropsy was conducted, but because the carcass was decomposing, X-rays were limited.

Dr. Michelle Barbieri, a veterinarian with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says there were no bone fractures and no evidence of local infection from a vaccine given to the seal on March 8.

“Sometimes it is challenging to assign a definitive cause of death to a seal,” said Barbieri.

NOAA Fisheries staff still don’t know the cause of death. They don’t believe it was hook-related or an intentional death, but they are waiting for tissue samples to come back in the next few weeks that will help them piece together what happened to the Hawaiian monk seal.

“They will actually look at the cells themselves, microscopically,” said Barbieri.

Barbieri believes Kimo Kai died quickly, but the diagnoses in the cause of death remains open for now.

She says there are approximately 1,200 Hawaiian monk seals, and a majority of them live in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

NOAA Fisheries is asking the public to report any seal interactions, injuries or deaths to 1-888-256-9840.

The sooner staff can respond, the better the chance of survival for the seal, or for scientists to understand the cause of death.

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