Young monk seal dies after surgery to remove ingested fishing hook

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An 8-month-old Hawaiian monk seal died from complications following surgery to remove a large fishing hook lodged in her throat.

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An 8-month-old Hawaiian monk seal died from complications following surgery to remove a large fishing hook lodged in her throat.

The position and size of the hook, an accumulation of scar tissue, and the pup’s small size made for a difficult and lengthy surgery for RG03, a female known as “Ola Loa,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Tuesday.

After several hours, the hook was removed, however, shortly after surgery she demonstrated signs of shock and other complications from the injury and extended surgery.

The team of veterinarians and researchers worked for six hours but were unable to stabilize the seal. The species was listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1976. Approximately 200 of the seals live in the main Hawaiian Islands. The remainder of the 1,100 seals live in the uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

RG0 was born Feb. 25 and was the ninth pup for mom R5AY, or “Honey Girl,” a seal who ingested a hook in 2012 and was rescued and rehabilitated by NOAA.

On Dec. 17, RG03 was seen with several feet of fishing line trailing from her mouth. However, volunteers, Monk Seal Foundation members and NOAA staff were unable to locate her until Dec. 27 when she was spotted near Kahuku Point off Oahu with the heavy gauge monofilament line still visible in her mouth.

NOAA sent a team to determine if hook removal was possible on the beach, however, because the hook was lodged somewhere in the throat or stomach, RG03 was captured and transported to NOAA’s facility on Ford Island for surgical intervention.

NOAA Fisheries and the state of Hawaii have a barbless circle hook project that works with fishermen to encourage the use of barbless hooks to lessen the impacts on turtles and seals.

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Should an interaction occur, officials advise against trying to reel in or disentangle the animal without trained response staff. Instead, cut the line as close to the seal as safely possible, leave the area and report the encounter by calling (888)256-9840.

If you spot a seal, whether it is in distress or not, let NOAA know by calling 987-0765 in West Hawaii or 756-5961 in East Hawaii.