The Great Dehooking of Hawaiian Monk Seal

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The Great Dehooking of Hawaiian Monk Seal

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Kauai
Apr 06, 2010

Good news.  Our Hawaiian monk seal known as 028 is de-hooked. 

The Great De-Hooking, as we are calling it, came after nearly three weeks of tracking this four-year-old endangered Hawaiian monk seal from one side of Kauai to the other.  Dozens of volunteers trudged up and down beaches on Kauai's north, east and south coasts in search of this rare marine mammal, one of only 1,100 in the world. 

One day, 028 was spotted on the south shore at Poipu Beach, so we called in the Great De-Hooking Team from Oahu, but by the time they got here, she'd woken from her nap and slipped into the water again.  Two days later, 028 was spotted lounging in the cove below Kilauea Point.  Unfortunately, sheer rock walls made the descent to access this female Hawaiian monk seal all but impossible, and I dubbed her, "Slippery Seal." 

Slippery Seal wasn't spotted again for nearly a week.  (If only she'd still sported that cell phone on her back.) This time, she popped up on the south shore at Lawai Beach.  The Great De-Hooking Team was called and, blessedly, arrived before the tide rose and drove 028 back into the sea.  It took the team all of 3 minutes and 3 seconds to remove the 2-inch, barbed fish hook--with two-feet of line trailing--from the left side of her mouth.  It must have made eating a challenge.  I am guessing she favored her left side of her mouth--I certainly would.  (If you look really closely and squint your eyes just right, you might be able to detect the line in the photo above.  It is arcing over the back of her head from her left side to her right.)

Hawaiian monk seals are known as opportunistic feeders.  That is, if they're swimming past a fish on a hook, they'll snag it.  Unfortunately, that's how they get hooked.  And it's also how they do not make friends with fishermen.  Generally, though, Hawaiian monk seals forage for food in the open ocean--as far off-shore as a mile and at depths,on average, of 300 to 500 feet.  When it comes to food, Hawaiian monk seals are not picky and, perhaps, that's why they've survived for some 13 million years.  Hawaiian monk seals nosh on crustaceans, fish, octopus and eel.  They use their big head and rely on their strong neck muscles to flip over rocks weighing as much as 80 pounds.  When their prey wriggles free from the boulder, the seal captures it in its mouth and crushes it with its powerful jaws.  Mind you, the dinner entree is alive and fights back in its own way.  That's when the hook must have caused some concern to 028.  But no longer!

On another Hawaiian monk seal note, I met Renee Lackey during last year's Marine Mammal Conference on Maui.  She was in the midst of rearticulating the bones of a seal, known as BK11, which had died of natural causes at Pearl and Hermes Reef in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in 2003.  She is now done.  It took 425 hours.

Now, call me a nerd, but I dig this skeleton.  It helps me understand what's beneath all the blubber of a lumbering seal that we see galumphing up the beach, and it reminds me why the Hawaiian name for these marine mammals is ilio holo i kauaua--dog running in the rough seas.

Renee's skeleton of the Hawaiian monk seal--I believe the only one in existence--will be on display at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary at 726 S. Kihei Road on Maui until some time this summer.  At that point, it will be moved to Bishop Museum on Oahu.









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