NOAA / MIMI OLRY
"DP4," the code name for the Hawaiian monk seal who was originally found with a fishing line coming out of her mouth, avoided a risky surgery when veterinary specialists determined yesterday she had lost an embedded fishhook on her own.
Monk seal off hook for surgery
A full exam reveals the absence of a hook inside the rare animal
A female Hawaiian monk seal code named "DP4" had a lucky break yesterday when veterinary specialists could not find a fishhook she was believed to have swallowed.
With less than 12 hundred Hawaiian monk seals left in the world, marine scientists take extraordinary measures when a seal gets in trouble.
"DP4" was first spotted off Kauai on May 26 with a fishing line coming out of her mouth, said Dr. Bob Braun, contract veterinarian with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
On Tuesday she was found again, this time without any visible fishing line in her mouth. Researchers thought she might have swallowed the hook, and relocated her to Oahu as a team was flown in from the mainland for a potentially risky hook-removal surgery that would entail removal of the stomach and intestines and many stitches.
Yesterday she was examined in preparation for surgery. "What we did was anaesthetize, go in with an endoscope and look inside her whole gi (gastrointestinal) tract," said Braun. No trace of the hook was found, he said, even after an ultrascan. He was amazed that she had apparently removed the hook and line herself.
"It was certainly a drama for her to be over here and held captive," said Braun, but he is pleased that she is healthy. "On a scale of 1 to 10, it was definitely a 9," he added, describing the seal's health. Federal fisheries officials plan to release the seal soon off Kauai's south shore.
Several monk seals are caught on fishing hooks every year, according to Dave Schofield, marine mammal coordinator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agency. He advises fishermen to use a barbless circle hook, which is easy for the seals to remove and will not affect the fish catch.
The 4- to 5-year-old female is important to the endangered population of Hawaiian monk seals, of which only 80 to 100 live in the main Hawaiian islands. An additional estimated 1,200 live in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
"This is a young female just sexually matured in the past year or two, so the fact that she survived is very important to the population. She'll hopefully soon be making many, many babies here in the main Hawaiian islands," said Braun.