Saturday, June 12, 2004

The U.S. Coast Guard airlifted this monk seal to Oahu from Kauai for surgery after it was found injured by fishing gear.

Injured monk seal is
airlifted to Oahu

U.S. Coast Guard officials airlifted an injured Hawaiian monk seal to Oahu from Kauai yesterday, fearing that it was in bad shape from a large fishing hook in its mouth.

After transport in a C-130 cargo plane, the seal, known as TT-40 from its flipper tag, was treated by veterinarians who removed 15 feet of fishing line and a leader, but the hook was not visible, said Robert Braun, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's lead veterinarian. TT-40 was resting at the Kewalo Research Facility last night.

NOAA marine biologist Brad Ryon said: "He's doing well. He's swimming in a rehab tank."

Hawaiian monk seals have been on the endangered species list since 1976, and the population is now estimated at 1,300.

Bud Antonelis, chief of protected species investigation, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, said monk seals have been injured by fishing hooks before, "and it's given us a reason for concern."

NOAA officials also rushed to the North Shore late last night to check out a report of another hooked seal.

"We're going to have our Fisheries experts look at the hooks. We'll be investigating the type of fishing hooks involved," Antonelis said.

Veterinarians have taken X-rays of the seal from Kauai to locate the hook and to determine if surgery is necessary, Braun said.

"Fishing hooks can penetrate and cause life-threatening organ damage," he said.

The injured seal was first sighted near Kapaa June 4 with a fishing line coming from its mouth, National Marine Fisheries Service officials said. The seal was also sighted two more times before it landed near Waimea, where NOAA and state Aquatic Resources Division officials captured it Thursday night.

At 10 a.m. yesterday the Coast Guard flew a cargo airplane to Kauai to transport the seal to Oahu, said Coast Guard spokeswoman Erica Taylor.

The injured seal is a 20-year-old male that weighs 500 pounds. Monk seals live to 25 to 30 years on average.

This seal is the first of two hooked seals seen on Kauai last week. The other was seen at Poipu on Kauai's southern shore. NOAA is asking for public's help in locating this hooked seal and can be reached via its toll-free, 24-hour hot line at 888-256-9840.

NOAA officials also said if a Hawaiian monk seal swallows a fishing hook, fishermen should cut the line as short as possible and call the hot line.

NOAA was able to track the airlifted injured seal because it had a satellite tracking tag attached to it earlier this year. NOAA attached the tags to learn more about Hawaiian monk seals and to locate them.

All Hawaiian monk seals sighted have a flipper tag so NOAA can identify each one individually.

In 2002 there were a minimum of 52 Hawaiian monk seals living among the main Hawaiian Islands, and the number is slowly increasing, said Antonelis.


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