Sedated monk seal dies during health assessment on Laysan Island

Scientists on Laysan Island say a Hawaiian monk seal has died in their care, during a routine procedure in September.

The team with the Hawaiian monk seal research program in Papahanaumokuakea, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, captured a 13-year-old male monk seal for general health assessment research on Sept. 17.

Scientists gave the seal a sedative, valium, for it to relax in the net, but they say the seal went into a dive response, in which the heart rate decreases and breathing can stop, which it did.

They tried to revive him, but could not.

“I think it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a veterinarian and it was very difficult for our entire team to have to have lost an animal in the first place and to turn around and actually conduct a full necropsy,” said Marine Mammal Center veterinarian Dr. Michelle Barbieri.

The necropsy revealed no underlying health problem so the program’s lead scientist says they “must conclude that it was solely due to our capture and handling of the seal that lead to its death.”

He says they have imposed a temporary safety stand-down for research activities as they review protocols.

This is the fifth research-related death in about 8,200 seal handlings since 1981.

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