Thanks to a conscientious fisherman, a Hawaiian monk seal no longer has a hook, line and sinker in his stomach, and is doing well back in the wild.
Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were able to locate RW02, an 11-year-old, male monk seal, and remove the contents from his stomach using endoscope technology.
NOAA released RW02, also known by the nickname of “Kauai Kolohe,” back into the ocean at Mokuleia on Oahu’s North Shore over the weekend.
“We’re really excited today to tell you the happy ending of a monk seal story that could have gone really bad, but it went really well,” said David Schofield, NOAA’s stranding coordinator. “This poor monk seal really did swallow a fish hook, fishing line and a sinker, but with the quick action of the community and the experts at the NOAA Fisheries Service, we were able to remove that material and release the seal back to the wild.”
The fisherman, who preferred to remain anonymous, reported the hooking on June 23, and NOAA is thanking him for it because as a result, the team was able to take swift action and help RW02 within the next two weeks.
“We really applaud the fishermen and fishing community who wants to work with NOAA on helping to protect the wildlife, the sea turtles, the whales, dolphins and seals,” said Schofield.
He emphasized that fisherman and other members of the public should call any time a seal is hooked or sighted with fishing line coming out of its mouth.
“We want people to call,” said Schofield. “We’re going to get out there and help the seal and there’s no reason not to call us. We want to partner with the fishing community on these types of things. And we understand that accidents happen.”
Dr. Michelle Barbieri, NOAA’s veterinarian, said an endoscope — a flexible, fiber-optic tube with a camera attached at the end — is typically used to plan a surgery, which is much more invasive and requires more recovery time. Fortunately, the team was able to use the endoscope and snare to remove the hook. As a result, the team was able to release RW02 the next day.
NOAA first discovered RW02 as a very young seal on Kauai in 2008, and is familiar with him, having attached a satellite tag to track him previously. In 2013, he began hanging out mostly on Oahu.
Volunteers from Hawaii Marine Animal Response helped locate RW02, and have since spotted him at Mokuleia, doing well.
Hawaiian monk seals are a critically endangered species protected by state and federal laws. Only an estimated 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals remain in the wild.
To report a hooked seal, call NOAA’s hotline at 888-256-9840.