A male Hawaiian monk seal, 13, that swallowed several fishing hooks faces an uphill battle at Ke Kai Ola, The Marine Mammal Center’s hospital for the endangered seals in Kailua-Kona.
Hawaiian monk seal RW22 has also been diagnosed with toxoplasmosis, a disease caused by a parasite found in feral cat feces, and is undergoing evaluation for a possible eye injury, according to the center.
“This monk seal is a challenging case because we’re treating for toxoplasmosis, a complex and potentially deadly disease that requires daily management,” says Dr. Sophie Whoriskey, The Marine Mammal Center’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Veterinarian in a news release. “As the only partner organization permitted by NOAA Fisheries to treat and rehabilitate Hawaiian monk seals, we’re proud to be able to support patients like RW22, and we will do everything we can to give this endangered animal a second chance in the wild.”
Wildlife officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration first received a report of a seal with a fishing line come out of its mouth on Oct. 4. The team rescued RW22 two days later, where an X-ray revealed he had swallowed fishing gear.
The U.S. Coast Guard gave RW22 got a lift aboard a C-130 aircraft to Ke Kai Ola, where he is now being treated. RW22’s long-term outlook, however, remains unclear.
Toxoplasmosis is one of the leading causes of monk seal deaths in the main Hawaiian Islands, according to NOAA, which can cause brain infections and muscle tremors. Veterinarians have observed muscle tremors in RW22.
Ke Kai Ola has started RW22 on a robust treatment plan to tackle the disease, and plan to stabilize him before considering surgery to remove multiple single-pronged hooks and other gear from his esophagus and stomach. He is sedated for treatments and tube-fed daily, and seems to be responding well, so far, officials said.
Since 2014, the center has rehabilitated and released 36 monk seals back into the wild. Most were malnourished pups rescued and returned to Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in partnership with NOAA Fisheries.
NOAA said Hawaii residents can help protect seals like RW22 from toxoplasmosis by taking preventative measures such as always disposing of cat litter in the trash and keeping pet cats indoors.
To report hooked, stranded, or entangled monk seals, call NOAA’s hotline at 1-888-256-9840.