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NOAA dehooks another monk seal thanks to helpful fisherman

  • Video courtesy Hawaii Marine Animal Response, NOAA permit 18786

    Hawaiian monk seal R333 was accidentally hooked by a fisherman on July 27. NOAA officials credit the fisherman for calling the hotline right away, which helped the response and treatment to the seal.

  • COURTESY NOAA

    After a hook was removed from his esophagus, Hawaiian monk seal R333 swims along the shore with a satellite transmitter attached to his back. NOAA officials said he swam back to Niihau.

Another Hawaiian monk seal accidentally hooked by a fisherman has been rescued, treated and released, according to federal wildlife officials.

Hawaiian monk seal R333 is alive and well, and already back in the ocean, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials, thanks to a fisherman who did the right thing.

“One of the heroes in this story is the fisherman who reported the seal hooking,” said David Schofield, NOAA regional marine mammal response coordinator. “His timely reporting as well as telling us the gear types, and what experience he had with the seal as far as reeling it in and cutting the line helped to inform the response and treatment to the seal. So it’s a very happy story in that regard.”

R333, an adult male, was accidentally hooked on the morning of Saturday, July 27, at Kaena Point on Oahu’s North Shore.

The fisherman called NOAA’s hotline right away, according to Schofield, and volunteers from Hawaii Marine Animal Response were able to locate the seal that same day. They found him with line coming out of his mouth.

NOAA officials caught R333 the next day and brought him in to remove the hook. He was released on Aug. 1 and outfitted with a satellite tag.

NOAA officials have known of R333 since 2015 and said he usually hangs out on Niihau but occasionally frequents shorelines around Kauai and Oahu. His satellite tag shows he headed back to Niihau following his release.

Dr. Michelle Barbieri, NOAA Fisheries veterinarian, said a barbed, circle hook was lodged deep in R333’s stomach.

The monk seal, weighing almost 400 pounts, was given anesthesia. Barbieri then used an endoscope and dehooking instrument that had been extended 16 inches to reach the hook, free it, slip a cover over it, and pull it out without snagging — avoiding a more invasive surgical procedure requiring a much longer recovery time.

It was the second seal hooking in the past two months. In June, Hawaiian monk seal RW02 swallowed a fishing hook, line and sinker.

A conscientious fisherman also reported that hooking to NOAA, and officials were able to track the male monk seal down on Oahu’s North Shore, remove the hook from his stomach and release him within about two weeks.

Schofield said fishermen by nature are conservationists, and he found in both cases they were motivated to help the seals by calling for help. Both want to remain anonymous.

Typically there are anywhere from six to a dozen hookings a year in the main Hawaiian Islands, Schofield said. Anyone who is fishing and spots a monk seal is encouraged to remove their lines until the seal has departed.

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.

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