Seal on the mend

An endangered monk seal is set to return to Kauai shores today after veterinarians on Oahu removed a large fish hook from its esophagus.

The 1-year-old male seal underwent anesthesia Wednesday and endured a delicate, two-hour procedure during which doctors coaxed the hook up its throat and out of its mouth without need for surgical procedures.

“Today, he’s been in the pool swimming around and he’s eaten a little fish,” said Rachel Sprague, Hawaiian monk seal recovery coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

The seal is scheduled to fly back to his home on Kauai’s North Shore this morning via a Coast Guard helicopter.

The incident marks the second time environmental officials have had to help remove a fishing hook from a monk seal on Kauai this year.

Last month, a large ulua hook was removed from a monk seal on the North Shore. That 2-year-old monk seal was spotted April 3 with the hook and an 18-inch line attached to it, stuck in its left cheek. A team caught up with the monk seal at Kaakaanui Beach a week later and removed the hook.

Last year, NOAA addressed 14 monk seal hookings.

Of those, six hooks fell out without intervention and seven hooks required NOAA workers to assist in the removal — one removal was surgical, one required anesthesia and the other five were more easily removed by hand on the beach. One seal died from an ingested hook, Sprague said.

“Usually we have between 10 and 15 hookings and entanglements in a year across the islands,” said Kauai Marine Mammal Response Program Coordinator Jamie Thomton. “We have a good success rate. When we know about it, we can usually intervene and save the animal’s life.”

The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the rarest marine mammals in the world with an estimated population of less than 1,100, according to data from the Coast Guard.

There are about 40 monk seals that call Kauai home, Thomton said.

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