KAENA POINT, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - There are only about 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals left in the wild. So when one of them was seen with a fish hook hanging from its mouth, a woman who monitors the seals became alarmed when help didn't come right away.
The hooked seal was recorded Wednesday by Zeeny Mian, who volunteers her time to track the seals and even runs a Web site to educate people.
"This is an adult male," said Mian. "He's a nine-year-old male, so he's a very large seal, and you can see it (the hook) takes the entire face. It's very large."
Mian said she called NOAA's monk seal hotline at 11 a.m., thinking a team would rush out to save the seal.
"I wanted until half past six in the evening," said Mian. "That's when the seal left with the hook and the line, and nobody ever turned up."
Mian said she was told that NOAA crews were working on another case involving two seals on the Waianae coast. "The life of those two seals were not threatened, whereas this one, it is."
That may be debatable. NOAA officials said this particular seal has been hooked before. "Actually five other times, so this is the sixth time," said David Schofield, NOAA Marine Mammal Response manager.
"In four of those original five, the seal has shaken the hook off, gotten it off itself," said Schofield.
Schofield and others were at Kaena Point Thursday but didn't spot the seal. But Schofield did get a look at the pictures taken Wednesday.
"It is a huge hook," he said. "But if you'll notice, you'll see most of it is not inside the seal's mouth. It's outside of the mouth. And so it's just hanging on by the tip and has a good chance of just coming out on its own."
According to Schofield, there are ten to 15 hookings of monk seals each year. And they can be life-threatening if the hook is swallowed, which is what happened to a young monk seal on Kauai just last week. The seal, known as RF-28, was flown to Oahu for emergency surgery, which went so well that the seal was flown back to Kauai two days later.
However, Mian said the seal she caught on video needs help.
"It's very concerning to see such a distressed animal, and I couldn't do anything about it."
NOAA predicts the hook will come out on its own, but Schofield and his team will go to Kaena Point for the next few days in case the seal shows up.