Officials: Monk seal death was painful, preventable

Published On: Feb 05 2013 05:43:39 PM HST   Updated On: Feb 05 2013 10:03:39 PM HST

Federal and state officials say the seal known as RK68 died a slow and painful death.

X-rays showed the Hawaiian monk seal swallowed a hook, leading to possibly months of suffering.

"The hook lodged in the esophagus near the stomach and it slowly migrated through the esophagus into his trachea," said Charles Littnan from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Littman said the seal could've been hooked as far back as August.  Only recently did crews find it injured on the Big Island and flew it to Oahu for treatment.

But, it was too late -- the animal wound up suffocating.

"He was already a lost cuase by the time we stepped up to intervene," said Littnan.

Wildlife officials say if they knew about the hooking earlier, the seal could have survived.  That's why the chairman of the Department of Land and Natural Resources is pleading with fishermen to report the accidents sooner.

"It's not like we are not going to find out.  Obviously, there is a hook.  That hook is used by shore casters, so we know that the shore casters are hooking seals.  What we need them to do is take that extra responsibility by calling as quickly as possible, as accurate as possible," said William Aila, chairman of the DLNR.

DLNR officials say you can file an anonymous report and there are no penalties for accidental hooking.

PHOTOS: Monk Seal dies due to fish hook

Earlier in life, the young seal suffered injuries that don't seem accidental -- broken ribs.

"It's probably human-related.  Either kicking or hitting with a blunt object or something," said Littnan.

The seal's ribs ultimately healed, but one fisherman's inaction might have lead to death.

The toll-free number to report a seal hooking is 1-888-256-9850.

NOAA found another hooked monk seal on Kauai Monday afternoon.  Because of early reporting, the hook was surgically removed and the seal is doing fine.


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