BARKING SANDS — Wildlife officials almost made it to the beach in time on June 22, when a citizen reported a Hawaiian monk seal in distress near the U.S. Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands near Kekaha.
The three year-old male seal known as RJ36 hauled out on the beach and was reportedly in distress Monday, when a citizen spotted it and called the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to report the animal. After being notified by NOAA, PMRF staff biologists rushed to the scene, but the seal died before biologists arrived.
The cause or causes of death appear to be a combination of ingested fishing line and a hook, according to the initial investigation. NOAA’s Kaua‘i Marine Mammal Response Coordinator Jamie Thomton said a post-mortem exam is pending and will “fully evaluate the impact of the hook and other potential factors related to RJ36’s death.”
“The seal had hauled out on the beach at PMRF with six feet of fishing line trailing from the mouth ending in a pigtail swivel, which is commonly used for slide-bait fishing,” Thomton said. “Ingested hooks can be fatal for some seals, for example if the hook pierces vital organs.”
RJ36 was born to the well-known female RK30 on Napali Coast in 2017. Over the next three years, he became a somewhat regular seal on the south and west shores, easily identified by his red J36 and J37 plastic flipper tags.
While public reporting of RJ36’s condition tipped off experts just a bit too late this time around, NOAA emphasizes it’s an important step in safeguarding the endangered mammals.
“Public reporting of hooked seals often alerts response teams early enough that lifesaving interventions are possible,” said Thomton.
Both state and federal officials encourage the public to follow the guidelines for fishing around seals and turtles, which includes watching gear closely and temporarily removing lines if seals are in the area, never feeding seals, and using barbless hooks.
Anyone who does hook a seal should cut the line as close to the animal as possible to remove trailing gear and then report it to NOAA at 888-256-9840.
Jessica Else, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.