Ailing Hawaiian monk seals sought
Two Hawaiian monk seals seen in Maui County are in need of immediate medical attention, and advocacy groups are seeking help from the public to locate them.
One female yearling, which frequents the Kalaupapa area in Molokai, is sick and severely malnourished, according to officials with the Monk Seal Foundation. It has been seen at Kaunala Beach, south of Dixie Maru, on Molokai.
“The seal we are looking for would appear ill and its ribs or other skeletal features would likely be visible,” said Pat Wardell, president of the Monk Seal Foundation, in a news release Thursday. “We are asking people to keep an eye out for this seal in the water or on the beach.”
If the seal is found, it will be airlifted to the Waikiki Aquarium on Oahu for evaluation, followed by any necessary medical treatment. After the seal recovers, it will be returned to Molokai, said David Schofield, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries marine mammal response coordinator.
The Hawaiian monk seal is endangered, and there are fewer than 1,100 seals remaining, according to the Monk Seal Foundation.
Another female seal, which frequents the Olowalu area, was accidentally hooked by a fisherman last week and also is being sought. Born in July at Kalaupapa, the seal has a 2.5-inch barbed circle hook on the left side of its face, along with up to 5 feet of wire and fishing line.
The fisherman reportedly hooked the seal early Saturday morning, when he believed he had caught a very large ulua. As the catch got closer to shore, the seal popped its head out of the water. Before authorities could arrive to remove the hook, the line broke and the seal fled the area, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The fisherman reported the incident Monday to the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary office in Kihei.
“I would like to commend this fisherman for calling in the incident,” said William J. Aila Jr., chairman of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, in a news release Thursday. “This is exactly the type of cooperation we need from the community.”
According to NOAA Fisheries, the Olowalu seal was reportedly fed by humans and was seen interacting with them.
“These interactions may have predisposed it to becoming hooked,” Schofield said in the news release. “The public is encouraged not to feed or interact with monk seals to prevent situations like this one from happening.”
In January, a young seal on the Big Island died following a hooking, and last year, another female seal was severely injured from a hook. The female survived, but her condition worsened when it went unreported.
“We want fisherman and ocean users to see that their fears about reporting interactions are unfounded,” said Trisha Kehaulani Watson, representative for the Marine Conservation Institute in Hawaii. “We hope that people hear about this fisherman stepping forward and realize that reporting hookings and other monk seal interactions is the best way to ensure that both monk seals and community livelihoods are protected.”
Anyone who has information about the seals’ whereabouts should call the NOAA Fisheries Monk Seal Hotline at (888) 256-9840. Photos of the two seals can be found on DLNR’s website at dlnr.hawaii.gov.