By Nina Wu
More sad news.
The young Hawaiian monk seal — ID tag RK68 — has died after the U.S. Coast Guard flew him from Hawaii island to Oahu last Friday for medical treatment. It's the first monk seal death of 2013, and the first from Hawaii island.
A necropsy conducted by NOAA Fisheries revealed that the monk seal suffered fractured ribs earlier in life, but more recently, it was the ingestion of a fishing hook that is believed to be the cause of his death.
The necropsy results reveal that the seal may have been hooked for several weeks or months. If the hooking incident had been reported earlier, officials believe they could have had a better chance of saving the monk seal's life.
“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.”
“Many people today use the term ‘kuleana' but we all must remember that kuleana is not just about our rights, it is also about our responsibilities," said Aila. "Our community has a responsibility to help manage and care for Hawaiian monk seals. 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. We have an opportunity at this time to find solutions that will work for both the seals and the fishermen.”
The Marine Conservation Institute concurred, saying that the seal suffered from labored breathing but died before authorities could determine that a fishing hook had been lodged in its throat.
"As our seal population in the main islands naturally grows, there will be more unintentional fishing interactions with seals by ocean users," said Marine Conservation Institute spokeswoman Trisha Kehaulani Watson. "Fisherman and other ocean-users can be valuable partners in protecting Hawaii's seals as they are our 'eyes on the water' who can report hooking injuries, entanglement and other interactions immediately to reduce Hawaiian monk seal fatalities."
Another seal was reported with a hook in its tongue on Kauai yesterday afternoon (Feb. 4), with a happier ending. Fortunately, NOAA staff and Sea Life Park vet Beth Doescher were able to remove the hook, and RT12 made it back into the ocean today (Feb. 5).
NOAA officials noted that monk seal hookings appear to be on the rise. In 2011, there were nine reported hookings, none of which resulted in deaths. In 2012, 15 hookings were reported, resulting in three deaths.
The Hawaiian monk seal is a critically endangered species — only 1,100 remain in the wild, and their population is declining 4 percent per year.
All seal sightings, injuries and entanglements can be reported to the National Marine Fisheries Service (24 hours a day and anonymously) at 1-888-256-9840. Write the number down and save it to your mobile phone.