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Hotline set up to aid hooked monk seals

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State and federal officials are asking fishers to quickly call a hotline when they see a hooked or entangled endangered Hawaiian monk seal.

Authorities have responded to 13 seal hookings so far this year, including three that killed seals.

The most recent incident involved the seal RK54, who swallowed a hook, became entangled in a fishing line and died. His carcass was found near Kauai’s Ninini lighthouse Oct. 2.

The 13 incidents so far this year are an increase from nine last year. They also exceed the average for the past decade, when about eight seals were caught each year.

Authorities were able to remove hooks in seven of the cases this year because people reported the hookings early. One seal removed the hook itself. Another seal is still hooked but alive.

William Aila, state Department of Land and Natural Resources director, said fishing interactions don’t pose a major threat to the recovery of the critically endangered species. But he said the department and federal officials want to address everything that harms Hawaiian monk seals, a species with a population of just 1,100 that’s declining about 4 percent annually.

"We want to partner with the fishermen to further reduce impacts. Following the guidelines and reporting hookings can help make a relatively small impact become even smaller," Aila said in a statement issued Friday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hotline for reporting hooked or entangled seals is 888-256-9840.

The department and NOAA are urging fishers and others to write down the number or save it in their mobile phones so they can call it quickly.

"As the numbers of successful interventions from this year show, reporting early is important to the potential survival of the seal in question," said David Schofield, marine mammal health and response program manager at NOAA’s Pacific Islands Regional Office.

Reporting also helps authorities develop better ways to keep seals away from fishing gear and fishing areas, which should help prevent the seals from becoming hooked and entangled.

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