HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A popular 15-year-old monk seal nicknamed "Honey Girl," known to frequent beaches along Oahu's North Shore, is recovering at the Waikiki Aquarium after undergoing reconstructive surgery for injuries sustained from a large fishhook that had been lodged in her cheek.
The seal, identified by her flipper tags as "R5AY," was reportedly weak, emaciated and covered in algae when she was found on Saturday, November 17, at Sunset Beach in Haleiwa. She was transported by NOAA Fisheries staff to the Aquarium at that time for medical care.
Officials say the ulua hook lodged in the seal's cheek caused severe swelling, and exams showed severe necrosis, or dead tissue, present on her tongue.
Last Monday, the seal was transported to the Honolulu Zoo for surgery. About one-third of the seal's tongue had to be removed because the tissue could not be saved.
The seal's condition has reportedly improved, and veterinarians say she has started to eat live and dead fish while her tongue continues to heal.
Officials from NOAA and the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources are urging fishermen and all ocean users to report hooking and other interactions with monk seals as soon as possible.
"Monk seals are a vital part of Hawai'i's marine and cultural environment," said William J. Aila, Jr., DLNR Chairperson. "It is important to acknowledge the contributions of the Waikiki Aquarium and Honolulu Zoo in helping to treat and care for R5AY and several other seals in the past. The support of these partner organizations is very much appreciated."
R5AY was near death when she was found and she apparently had been hooked for several days.
NOAA Fisheries Service data indicate that a total of 84 hooking-related interventions have occurred over the past 10 years, with a total of nine incidents in 2011 and 14 incidents thus far in 2012.
The agencies offer guidelines, titled "Hawaiian Monk Seals and Fishing Interactions: Guidelines for Prevention, Safety and Reporting," that describe actions fishermen can take to avoid seal hookings and entanglement, and to reduce fishing gear and bait loss. The guidelines also stress the importance of reporting all fishing interactions.
The toll-free, 24/7 reporting hotline for all fishing interactions and other marine mammal incidents is: 1-888-256-9840. NOAA and DLNR urge all fishermen and other ocean users to write down this hotline and/or save it in their mobile phones for timely use whenever a seal is hooked or entangled.