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Monk Seals and Marine Turtles in 2012

December 28, 2012

Although the precise number of monk seals in the main Hawaiian Islands is unknown, 152 individual seals were identified in 2011. The count did not include seals at Niihau, so the actual population size within the main islands is probably around 200 individuals. Each year some of them are accidentally hooked by shorefishing gear. In recent years, approximately 10 seals have been hooked annually. In 2012, through mid-September, 11 seals had been accidentally hooked. Two of the hookings resulted in death of the animal because the hook was deeply ingested. An additional seal was brought into temporary captivity for surgical hook removal and survived. Of the remaining 8 hookings, 3 seals lost the hook without assistance, NOAA personnel successfully removed hooks from 4 seals, and 1 case remains pending. The proactive, voluntary use of self-shedding barbless circle hooks by fishermen could result in a less injurious outcome for monk seals should an accidental hooking occur. — John Henderson, Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program, NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.

A live turtle found at Hanauma Bay with barbed hooks; 1 in the neck and 1 in the left front flipper. The hooks were 
                  surgically removed and the turtle successfully released back at Hanauma Bay.
A live turtle found at Hanauma Bay with barbed hooks; 1 in the neck and 1 in the left front flipper. The hooks were surgically removed and the turtle successfully released back at Hanauma Bay.

Hawaiian sea turtle strandings have been documented by the PIFSC Marine Turtle Research Program since 1982. Currently, nearly 6,400 stranding reports show approximately 1,500 turtles were involved with fishing gear such as line, net or hooks. Of those, a little more than half involved fishing line and approximately 30% involved hooks. For all fishing gear interactions, about 40% of the turtles involved were successfully released alive. Of the 312 stranded turtles reported in 2011, 63 (20%) were determined to have hook and/or line as the main cause of the stranding. Reports for 2012, as of June 2012, show that 35 turtles were found with fishing gear (19 were released alive), compared to 13 cases involving fibropapillomatosis. Considering all strandings data collected in recent years, incidents of fishing gear interactions with turtles have increased and are now the second most common cause of strandings for the Hawaiian green sea turtle; fibropapillomatosis is the most prevalent known cause. Reports are also received from recreational divers about entangled or hooked turtles, but these events are not included in the stranding reports. The use of barbless circle hooks may allow sea turtles and other incidentally captured animals to be easily released without much harm to the animal. It may also prevent loss of fishing gear if the hook can be dislodged. — Ms. Shawn K. K. Murakawa, Marine Turtle Research Program, NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.