The Marine Mammal Center and collaborative partners save an endangered Hawaiian monk seal.
March 1, 2013
Three months ago today, adult female monk seal R5AY (Honey Girl) was released on Oahu after recovering from reconstructive tongue surgery following a hooking injury. During the remainder of the post-release monitoring period, R5AY has demonstrated continued recovery. She has maintained good body condition and there have been no reports of her interacting with fishing gear (lines/hooks, nets or other).
R5AY's satellite tag stopped transmitting and fell off in mid-January, but through telemetry data and on-ground surveillance, we now know that she heavily favors to Oahu's windward side.
In mid-February, she began to molt and per today's observation, it is about 80% complete as you can see from the photo above. I know many of us will be happy to see her looking sleek and silver very soon! A loss of body condition is expected during the molting process, yet she appears robust and well within that which would be expected for a molting adult.
Volunteers typically encounter her at least once weekly, and the team will continue log these reports and monitor her condition.
Again, a heartfelt thanks to all for your support and efforts during the recovery of this important breeding individual!
Michelle Barbieri, DVM, MS
Hawaiian Monk Seal Health Program Coordinator The Marine Mammal Center & NOAA Fisheries
January 7, 2013
An update from our friends at the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program:
We at the HMSRP are hoping that 2013 is a good year for monk seals. And it will be if everyone does what they can to spread good information, advocate for seals, volunteer in emergencies, or even just check this page out once in a while. On that note we thought it would be great to start early with a new addition to the page: So the first good news story is an update on R5AY…an adult female monk seal that got
hooked and suffered severe injuries to her mouth and tongue from the hook and line. A group of great people helped to rescue, treat, rehab and release her back on Oahu. It has been nearly six weeks since R5AY was released, following reconstructive tongue surgery and rehabilitation at the Waikiki Aquarium (go like their page!). Since that time, she has been closely monitored thanks to the efforts of many volunteers and staff.
These efforts allowed us to photographically document a gradual improvement in body condition on a daily to weekly basis. Satellite tracks indicate that her movements around the windward side of Oahu are what we would expect for a healthy, foraging seal. Together, these findings demonstrate that R5AY can successfully forage in her natural habitat and is well on her way to making a full recovery.
A couple of times we were concerned about her condition and there have been a couple of events that caused some stress, but overall her condition continues to improve and things are looking good for her. Here is a photo to show you how she looks as of this afternoon. The picture certainly made our day and we hope it will put a smile on your faces as well. This was an enormous team effort. Thanks very much to each of you for your support and interest, whether from near or far, in returning this important breeding female to the wild. Rest assured that we will continue to keep an eye on her (and the other 1,140 or so other monk seals in Hawaii).
Help save Hawaiian monk seals today!
December 5, 2012
It takes team work and collaboration to achieve a common goal!
That certainly was the case recently in Hawaii as members from The Marine Mammal Center worked together with NOAA Fisheries Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program (HMSRP), Pacific Islands Regional Office, Waikiki Aquarium, Honolulu Zoo, Hawaiian Monk Seal Response Team Oahu (HMSRTO), and local veterinary specialists to save a 15-year-old female Hawaiian monk seal nicknamed Honey Girl.
Researchers have been following Honey Girl for a while (she's also been known as R5AY by the flipper tag they attached to her when she was younger) and knew that she had given birth to six pups over the years and had just finished weaning another pup. Researchers have been tagging Hawaiian monk seals like Honey Girl to get a better understanding about the species. Hawaiian monk seals are the most endangered seal in U.S. waters with only 1,100 left in existence, and with so few alive, scientists want to learn everything they can in order to help future populations thrive.
Unfortunately for Honey Girl, life in and around the Hawaiian Islands was no paradise.
On November 17, a team from NOAA Fisheries rescued her on Sunset Beach on the North Shore of Oahu. She was emaciated, weak, and covered in algae. Worse, her mouth was swollen as a result of a hook that was still lodged in her cheek. Attached to the hook was a monofilament leader and “pigtail” connector, a type of gear frequently used in “slide bait” shoreline fishing. This entanglement was likely responsible for damaging her tongue and veterinarians estimate that Honey Girl was living with this injury for at least three weeks, possibly longer.
Dr. Michelle Barbieri, conservation medicine intern at The Marine Mammal Center and the head of the NOAA Fisheries Hawaiian monk seal health and disease program, managed the clinical care of Honey Girl during her 13 days of rehabilitation at the Waikiki Aquarium. The team provided around-the-clock care for the seal and carefully removed the hook from her cheek. They then utilized the expert help of Miles Yoshioka, a veterinary surgeon, to perform the delicate surgery needed to repair Honey Girl's damaged tongue at the Honolulu Zoo. The procedure is the first-known tongue surgery on a Hawaiian monk seal!
Gratifyingly, Honey Girl recovered and in the slide show above, you can see her care takers preparing her to be transported and released off of Oahu on November 29. Sporting a satellite tag, scientists will continue to learn more about her travel patterns which is definitely good news, for her and the species.
NOAA officials urge fishermen and all ocean users to report hooking and other interactions with monk seals as soon as possible by calling the Hawaiian Monk Seal Sighting Hotline at (808) 220-7802.
- Read about the new hospital we're building dedicated to helping Hawaiian monk seals!
- Adopt a former seal patient through our Adopt-a-Seal gift program and help future patients like Honey Girl!