A young Hawaiian monk seal that accidentally swallowed fishing gear is now in recovery at Ke Kai Ola, The Marine Mammal Center’s hospital in Kailua-Kona specializing in the endangered pinnipeds.
The juvenile male seal, identified as N2, is currently in stable condition after a veterinarian at the center successfully extricated the hook from his stomach.
A call to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s hotline on Jan. 22 reported a sighting of the monk seal along Oahu’s Ka Iwi coastline with a wire fishing leader and swivel hanging from his mouth.
NOAA Fisheries staff responded, but were unable to remove the gear right away due to logistical constraints. Over the next few days, volunteers from the nonprofit Hawaii Marine Animal Response searched for N2 and eventually found him on Jan. 27 at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve.
The U.S. Coast Guard gave N2 a lift to Ke Kai Ola, where a specialized team was able to remove the hook and are now offering him a safe place to rest and recover. The team noted that N2 had been moderately malnourished, but alert.
He will be fed a diet of sustainably caught live and dead fish, along with fluids to boost his nutrition, over the next few days.
“The ingested fishing gear clearly impacted this monk seal’s condition and we’re hopeful thanks to a successful procedure, that this animal is on the road to a full recovery,” says Dr. Sophie Whoriskey, the Center’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Veterinarian, in a news release. “We’re proud to be able to support patients like N2 as the only partner organization permitted by NOAA Fisheries to treat and rehabilitate Hawaiian monk seals. We will do everything we can to give this endangered animal a second chance to return to his ocean home.”
Hawaiian monk seals, with a population of only about 1,400 left in the wild, are an endangered species protected by state and federal laws.
The seals suffer from very high rates of entanglement in ocean trash and fishing gear, as well as ingestion of fishing hooks, according to NOAA. They also suffer from toxoplasmosis, a disease resulting from a parasite spread through infected cat feces, as well as intentional harm by humans.
Since 2014, Ke Kai Ola has rehabilitated and released 36 monk seals, mostly from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands within Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
Anyone who sees a monk seal or other marine mammal in distress can report sightings to NOAA’s toll-free hotline at 1-888-256-9840.