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Necropsy indicates monk seal died from fish hook

By Rosemarie Bernardo

LAST UPDATED: 5:45 p.m. HST, Feb 5, 2013

A juvenile monk seal that died after it was spotted in a lethargic state off of Hawaii island ingested a fishing hook, according to a necropsy conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries.

The monk seal, identified as RK68, was spotted Friday near Mahukona on the west coast of Hawaii island. The Coast Guard flew the mammal to Oahu for medical treatment, but its injuries caused by the hook were severe.

An X-ray showed the hook lodged in its esophagus. Charles Littnan, head of NOAA's Hawaii monk seal recovery program, said scar tissue began to form around the hook, causing the monk seal to suffocate. 

Officials believe the hook ingestion was the cause of the monk seal’s death.

The mammal could have been hooked several weeks to several months ago. 

At a news briefing held today, William Aila Jr., director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Aila urged the public to report monk seal hookings as soon as possible.

This is the first monk seal death of the year.

The necropsy also showed healing fractured rib wounds. 

Littnan, said the rib injuries were not related to the hooking. The injury probably happened when the mammal was much younger, he said. The injury was a result of blunt force trauma that was likely human-related, kicking or hitting with a foreign object. 

K68 was able to recover from its rib fractures but subsequently got hooked, said Littnan. 

Another juvenile monk seal, identified as RT12, was spotted Monday with a hook in its tongue. Veterinarians performed minor surgery this morning and successfully removed the hook, said Littnan. 

To report a monk seal in distress, call the toll-free hotline at 1-888-256-9840. 

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