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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Seal needs more surgery to remove fish hook

By Carrie Ching
Advertiser Staff Writer

Veterinarians were unable to remove a 5-inch fish hook from the esophagus of a rescued monk seal, but will try again this morning by cutting into the 500-pound male's abdomen.

Veterinarians worked on the monk seal at the Marine Corps base in Kane'ohe yesterday. The vets located the fish hook stuck inside the seal but were unable to remove it. They'll try again today.

NOAA Fisheries photo

During a two-hour procedure yesterday at Kane'ohe Marine Corps Base, veterinarians found the hook just above the entrance to the stomach using an endoscope, which is a flexible tube with a tiny camera on the end.

They were unable to use the endoscope to remove the hook because of the hook's size and position, said Dr. Bob Braun, the head veterinarian caring for the seal.

The seal was first seen June 4 near Kapa'a with fishing line trailing from its mouth. Volunteers and officials captured the animal Thursday after it came ashore to rest near Waimea. It was airlifted from Kaua'i to O'ahu over the weekend.

Braun described the hook as a large recreational "circle fish hook" with a point that curves back in sharply towards the shaft.

"This helps fishermen keep the fish on the hook, but it makes it that more difficult to get it out of something," he said.

This morning, Braun said, the team of veterinarians will make an incision in the seal's abdomen, open up his stomach and try to remove the hook manually.

"Any time you enter a body cavity it is a delicate procedure," Braun said. "We're worried about infection before, during and after the procedure."

Dr. Marty Haulena, a seal specialist visiting from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif., is also concerned about anesthetizing the monk seal.

Marine Mammal Hotline

Federal officials ask people to report injured marine mammals to the NOAA Fisheries 24-hour hot line: (888) 256-9840.

"Anesthesia does have risks, and bigger risks when you're dealing with marine mammals," Haulena said.

"They're used to holding their breath for long periods underwater. Under anesthesia they tend not to breathe and they slow their heart rate way down. That's their bodies' natural response," he said.

Haulena said today's surgery will take at least two hours, maybe longer. "We don't know exactly how deep it is and where the point is," he said.

Braun said he's seen many monk seals hooked accidentally by fishing lines, but this seal, identified by its official ID number, TT40, is in a particularly tough situation. "Most of them are hooked through the lip," he said. "This one was more difficult because he swallowed it."

"We all have to be careful," said Braun, an avid fisherman and diver himself. "As people see seals or other people in the water, they can remove the hazard as it becomes visible," he said. Braun said the most important thing a fisherman who hooks a seal can do is report the injury to the NOAA Fisheries 24-hour hotline.

"As soon as we get the call we can mount a response," said Margaret Akamine of NOAA Fisheries. "That's the animal's best chance of survival."

Reach Carrie Ching at 525-8054 or cching@honoluluadvertiser.com.