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Monk Seals and Marine Turtles in 2013

December 31, 2013

Monk Seals

Approximately 150-200 Hawaiian monk seals inhabit the main Hawaiian Islands, and monk seals have been documented inter-acting with several fisheries, including set nets, traps, spearfishing, and shoreline fishing. Approximately 10 seals become accidentally hooked by shore-fishing gear every year in Hawaii. In 2013, as of mid-September, 10 seals had been accidentally hooked by either large circle hooks or small 'damashi' hooks. One of the hookings resulted in the death of the affected animal because the hook that had been swallowed was near the stomach. Of the remaining 9 incidents, 5 seals lost the hook without assistance and 4 had the hook removed by NOAA personnel. The proactive voluntary use of a self-shedding barbless circle hook by fishermen could result in a less injurious outcome should an accidental hooking occur. — John Henderson, Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program, NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.

Marine Turtles

Fisherman removes hook and line from lightly hooked green turtle.
Fisherman removes hook and line from lightly hooked green turtle.

The Marine Turtle Research Program's stranding response recently reached a significant milestone in the release back into the ocean of the 808th turtle rescued and rehabilitated since the program's inception in 1990. This turtle in particular was aided by good samaritan members of the public in Kailua Bay on Oahu: a life-threatening fishing line that had been strangling the body and a front flipper was carefully removed; the turtle was promptly released and swam away vigorously. This is the best outcome for a turtle that interacts with fishing line: Others have a flipper so severely damaged that amputation surgery by a veterinarian is required (62 cases since 1990). The most common species rescued is the green turtle with 96% of instances, followed by small numbers of hawksbill, olive ridleys, and one case of a loggerhead. Most of the turtles rescued (63%) stranded on Oahu, followed by the Big Island (19%), and Maui (11%). Of the 13 categories recorded as cause for live stranding thus far, the most common is indeed line strangulation (274 of the 808 turtles or 34% of the total), followed by interaction with fishing hooks, usually stuck in the body of a turtle without actual entanglement by fishing line (128 cases, or 16% of the total). The third most frequent category for a rescue is entanglement in fishing net either from coastal recreational fishing or net debris originating from the high seas (105 instances, or 13% of the total). First funded in 1990 as a Congressional Initiative by the late Senator Daniel K. Inouye, sea turtle stranding response and research is an important facet of the NOAA PIFSC Protected Species Division (PSD). The success of this activity is a direct reflection of the partnerships and excellent cooperative dedication between many State, Federal and private agencies and, as in this instance, the public. Reports are also received from recreational divers about entangled or hooked turtles, but these reports are not included in the stranding reports. By using barbless circle hooks, sea turtles and other incidentally captured animals may be easily released without much harm to the animal. It may also prevent loss of fishing gear to the fishermen if the hook can be dislodged instead of being taken with the animal. — Ms. Shawn K. K. Murakawa, Protected Species Division, NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.