NOAA Investigates Hooking of Monk Seals

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REPORT FROM THE STATE DLNR — The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and NOAA Fisheries today announced the health status of two recently hooked monk seals.  Since March 2012, NOAA Fisheries, DLNR and partners have responded to five seal hooking incidents involving four individual Hawaiian monk seals.

“Monk seals are a vital part of Hawai‘i’s marine and cultural environment,” said William J. Aila, Jr., DLNR Chairperson.  “Thanks to the citizens who reported the hooking of monk seal Kolohe, we are pleased to announce that he has recovered and was released back on Kaua‘i on Monday.


“Unfortunately, Sharkbite’s recovery was not successful, increasing the total now to three cases where hooking have been the likely cause of death of monk seals.  We want to partner with the fishermen to reduce impacts.  Following guidelines and reporting hookings can help make a relatively small impact become even smaller.

“Handling these hookings has been very labor and resource intensive and could not be possible without significant support and leadership from several partners. NOAA and DLNR, along with all of our partners, would like to take this opportunity to remind fishermen that monk seal deaths and injuries from fishing interactions can often be prevented, and adverse impacts to fishermen and seals can be reduced through early reporting of incidents.”

The agencies offer guidelines, titled “Hawaiian Monk Seals and Fishing Interactions: Guidelines for Prevention, Safety and Reporting,” that describe actions fishermen can take to avoid seal hookings and entanglement, and to reduce fishing gear and bait loss.  The guidelines also stress the importance of reporting all fishing interactions.

The guidelines are available at the following link:

The toll-free, 24/7 reporting hotline for all fishing interactions and other marine mammal incidents is: 1-888-256-9840.  NOAA and DLNR urge all fishermen and other ocean users to write down this hotline and/or save it in their mobile phones for timely use whenever a seal is hooked or entangled.

“We highly encourage reporting as early as possible,” said Jeff Walters, Marine Mammal Branch Chief, NOAA NMFS PIRO.  Timely reporting of monk seal fishing interactions is beneficial in at least two ways: it can help save a seals life and minimize injury if treated quickly; and, secondly, reports help federal and state managers better understand seal behavior with fishing interactions and can help guide development of testing improved methods to prevent and mitigate interactions.

“We’re also very thankful for the many partnerships that have contributed staff and resources to these response efforts. On behalf of NOAA, I would like to thank our partners DLNR, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Waikiki Aquarium, Honolulu Zoo, the response volunteers (Hawaiian Monk Seal Response Team O‘ahu and Kaua‘i Volunteers), Vancouver Aquarium, USCG Air Station Barbers Point, The Marine Mammal Center, Dr. Bob Braun, Dr. Marty Haulena, Dr. Francis Gulland, and others who have provided their assistance.”

Update on Hooked Seal Status as of May 24, 2012:

K36 “Kolohe”:  Recovered well from the de-hooking procedure at Waikiki Aquarium despite initial concerns that he was fighting an infection and pneumonia.  On Monday, May 21, he was transported from O‘ahu to Kaua‘i on a USCG C-130 and released on Kaua‘i.  The seal is fitted with temporary tracking tags (cell phone tag and satellite tag) for tracking and follow up if needed.

T15M “Sharkbite”:  Sharkbite had to be humanely euthanized on Saturday (May 19) at Waikiki Aquarium due to infection and necrosis of the surgical site and associated deteriorating health.  The seal’s advanced age (at least 27 years old) probably was a factor in his poor recovery after surgery.  The volunteer network was notified and many were saddened but understood the seal’s options and condition.  The remains of the seal will be cremated and a memorial ceremony will be held at White Plains in the near future.

RK96 “Kaiwi”:  Staff have still have not been able to bring her in from the wild, but are ready to do so and treat her as soon as she presents herself in a location where we can safely bring her in for treatment.  We have stepped up surveillance looking for Kaiwi and we believe she is still around O‘ahu.  The good news is that she has been sighted out in the water acting normally, but just not hauling out in a place where she can be safely captured.  If the situation remains unchanged, we would bring her in for an X-ray at Waikiki Aquarium and proceed with de-hooking and/or other treatment as necessary.NOAA Fisheries Service data indicate that a total of 77 hooking incidents have been reported over the past 10 years, with at total of nine incidents in 2011 and eight incidents reported thus far in 2012 (including the five incidents discussed here).

In March 2012, an adult male seal was found dead on Kaua‘i.  A hook was found in the seal’s esophagus and necropsy results indicated that the seal likely died from trauma caused by the hook.  The other three hookings reported thus far in 2012 were relatively minor and de-hooked on their own or removed in the field by marine mammal response staff.