Please select your home edition
Edition
SWC newsletters (top)

Tip from fisherman leads to monk seal rescue

by NOAA Fisheries 10 Aug 18:57 UTC
Advances in monk seal rescues © NOAA Fisheries

Early on Saturday, July 27th, the Hawaii Marine Animal Rescue received a call about a hooked monk seal. A fisherman was reeling in his line when he realized there was an endangered Hawaiian monk seal at the end of it. After cutting the seal loose, he called the Hawaiian monk seal response line (1-888-256-9840). He gave critical, life-saving information to the response team.

The fisherman provided information that allowed the team to find the seal on Saturday afternoon. He told them about the set hook, trailing fishing line, gear identification, and seal's natural markings. These were all the same as the seal R333. Usually found between Ni?ihau and Kaua?i, R333 was recently spotted on O?ahu. Just as the response team arrived to remove the hook, he slipped away into the water in romantic pursuit of a female seal. On Sunday morning, he was seen again. This time, we successfully and safely captured him and brought to NOAA's Inouye Regional Center in Honolulu for further evaluation.

The NOAA team evaluated the seal to locate the hook and determine ways to remove it. An X-ray showed the hook lodged deep in the esophagus, just before the opening to the stomach. In the past, a hook that deep would usually require surgery, but surgery is invasive and recovery is long. It was the vet team's least desirable option.

Led by Dr. Michelle Barbieri, the team wanted all options on the table. This included modifying a de-hooking tool that had been used on animals with hooks lodged higher in the esophagus. Because of the hook's depth, and R333's size, they decided to try making the tool longer. They had to take it to a welder, who quickly figured out how to add 16 inches to the de-hooking tool. This would be their best chance at a less invasive procedure.

On Wednesday, the experts anesthetized R333 and assembled around the equipment. Dr. Gregg Levine used an endoscope to view the hook. The team wanted to try the extended de-hooking tool first before any surgical options. With tempered expectations, Dr. Barbieri gingerly slid the de-hooking tool along the length of the fishing line, turning and prodding where the hook was lodged. It took about 45 minutes, but she was able to free the hook from the valve between the esophagus and the stomach, called the cardiac sphincter.

The team wasn't out of the woods yet—the hook was still inside the seal. They worried about the damage it had caused. They used the endoscope again, this time to evaluate the tissue punctured by the hook. It was surprisingly minimal. The resulting wound would probably heal on its own. They still needed to pull the hook out, through the cardiac sphincter and along the entire length of the esophagus, without snagging the seal's internal tissues. They skillfully slid a piece of flexible PVC tubing over the tool and used it to cushion the point of the hook. It was removed without any snagging.

The vet team breathed a large, collective sigh of relief. They gave R333 antibiotics and fluids, and he recovered from anesthesia without complication. The team released him by noon on Thursday, outfitted with a satellite tag, microchip, and flipper tags. Good luck, R333! We hope you find romance.

Report Seal Sightings

Please report monk seal sightings by contacting your local stranding network, or sending an email to . Provide the following information:

  • Date and time.
  • Descriptive location—including island, beach name, and GPS coordinates (if available).
  • Estimated size of seal (length).
  • Identifying characteristics (flipper tags, scars, or other markings).
  • Seal's behavior—including interactions with people and other animals.
  • Photos (if possible).

Related Articles

Composition patterns of fish communities in Hawaii
Do the shallow reef fish communities extend to mesophotic depths? Relatively little is known about the underwater world below typical scuba diving depths. This includes mesophotic depths,100 to 500 feet beneath the surface, the furthest that sunlight can penetrate the ocean. Posted on 17 Nov
2019 Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals
Aerial surveys for whales offer a vastly different view compared to boat-based surveys Aerial surveys for whales offer a vastly different view compared to boat-based surveys. The aerial view allows us to see both left and right sides of a whale's body and sometimes even parts of the body below the water's surface. Posted on 9 Nov
What happens when a right whale dies
The right whale known as "Snake Eyes" likely died from entanglement in Canadian fishing gear When a right whale dies and we find it in U.S. waters, we work with stranding network partners to do a necropsy so that we can find out more about the whale and what caused its death. Posted on 8 Nov
Genetics reveal Pacific subspecies of Fin Whale
New findings highlight diversity of marine mammals New genetic research has identified fin whales in the northern Pacific Ocean as a separate subspecies, reflecting a revolution in marine mammal taxonomy Posted on 31 Oct
Tide to table: The rise of ocean farmers
Aquaculture, also known as farming in water, is fastest growing food production system in the world There is a growing interest in understanding where our food is coming from and in supporting local farmers. There has also been an increased focus on local fare on many menus at eateries coast to coast. Posted on 20 Oct
Corals thriving 3 years after Hurricane Matthew
Monitoring shows 90 percent survival rate for restored corals in Puerto Rico Hurricane Matthew swept a destructive path through the south Atlantic and Carribean. Immediately, staff from the NOAA Restoration Center set to work responding to a damaged coral reef off the coast of Puerto Rico. Posted on 18 Oct
New online course for spotting entangled whales
Responding to whale entanglements can be dangerous Highly-trained responders depend on boating community to be "eyes and ears" on the water. The foundation of responding to entangled whales is the on-water community. Posted on 11 Oct
Looking back at the Blob - Chapter 2
The Blob, Chapter 2: Marine Heat Wave "Off the Charts" Temperatures of up to 7 degrees Fahrenheit above normal disrupted the marine ecosystem in both expected and surprising ways. Posted on 10 Oct
Nine turtles satellite tagged in Cape Cod Bay
Researchers attached tags to nine leatherbacks Researchers from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center and colleagues successfully attached satellite tags to nine leatherback turtles in Cape Cod Bay this summer. Posted on 3 Oct
Looking back at The Blob
Temperatures of up to 7 degrees Fahrenheit above normal disrupted the marine ecosystem When he saw the sampling nets hauled aboard a NOAA research ship off the coast of Oregon in the summer of 2015, Ric Brodeur knew right away something very strange was happening. Posted on 3 Oct
MBW newsletters (top)