HA’ENA — A Hawaiian monk seal that had a large fish hook extracted from its
tongue last week is expected to make a full recovery, biologists say.
wounded adult female monk seal, estimated at 450 pounds, was first spotted at
Ha’ena Beach Thursday by local residents out for a morning jog.
reactions of the residents and volunteers from the Kaua’i Monk Seal Watch
Program played a critical part in the rescue, said Dr. Melissa Shaw, a contract
veterinarian for the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service .
“It was a
total team effort from everyone in the community. Everyone pulled through for
her and she just swam off into the sunset,” she said.
Upon being contacted,
Betty Unanian, the closest Watch volunteer in the area, set up a makeshift
barrier out of beachwood branches around the creature to keep it safe.
“What that did was give us time to get there,” Shaw said, “because if
anyone had come by and had not known about monk seals and wanted to get up
close and personal with the cute seal, they could have easily spooked it off
Unanian and other volunteers managed to keep the growing crowd
a good distance away from the seal. They stayed nearby to answer questions
about the seal from curious beachgoers and tourists while the NMFS rescue team
Had it ventured back into the water, the animal could very well
have died, since the hook embedded at the base of its tongue would have
prevented it from eating, Shaw said.
The large, barbed circle hook was
attached to a “slider” rig, typically used by recreational fishermen to catch
ulua from shore. The line was about 20 feet and may have been cut by the
fisherman when he realized he had caught a seal.
This monk seal, who
biologists say had been born on Midway Island and was spotted several months
ago off of Molokai, was the latest of seven monk seals reported with hooks in
their mouths on Maui, O’ahu and Kaua’i since 1991.
In 1995, a juvenile
monk seal swallowed a similar hook on Kaua’i and later died.
Shaw, and two
other NMFS biologists from O’ahu, were joined by Kaua’i officials, Don Heacock,
aquatic biologist from the state Department of Land & Natural Resources,
and Tom Alexander, from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Department.
was unable to remove the hook when the animal was first discovered last
Thursday since the valium needed to sedate the seal appeared to be spoiled,
Despite the risk of the seal bolting back into the sea, she
said, she decided to play it safe.
“It was too much of a risk to inject it
in the seal, because it’s an endangered species and each life is precious. It’s
not like they are making a choice, saying, ‘OK you can do it on me.'”
biologists issued an appeal to the community for medication to sedate the
wounded animal. Hanalei Fire Department personnel responded, driving to Ha’ena
with 20 milligrams of valium. Unfortunately, that was a human dosage; the monk
seal required double the amount.
At the suggestion of Kenneth Pierce,
medical control officer for the fire department, Shaw went to the pharmacy at
Wilcox Memorial Hospital and wrote a prescription for valium for the 450-pound
The next morning, the team got together and tried again to rescue
the seal. The team netted the seal and sat on the seal’s shoulders and flippers
to restrain it while Shaw administered the shot with a three-inch
While the team extracted the hook, the seal was “the perfect
patient,” said Shaw. The female seal allowed Shaw and others to work in the
back of her mouth “without once twitching a muscle in an effort to snap at
Instead the seal patiently laid there with its mouth open and slack
during the operation. Occasionally, she would open one eye to take a look
around and then close it again.
So did the seal actually know they were
“I have to wonder about that and consider it a possibility
because usually just to swab their nose, they’ll try bite you, and we were
working in her mouth in an area that was clearly traumatized and clearly
painful for a prolonged period of time and not so much as a snap.”
was embedded three inches deep and required an incision to dislodge it from the
Once released the seal gently slipped back into the ocean,
opened her mouth and put her head down in the water and shook.
she’s rinsing,” said one of the younger onlookers.
Shaw said that given the
place of the wound and the ability of monk seals to heal very well, this seal
will probably fully recover from the injury.