Researchers mourn death of monk seal caused by fishing net


NOAA researchers are mourning the death of a Hawaiian monk seal that some have known for years.

It got entangled in a fishing net and was found on Oahu’s leeward coast. NOAA told KHON2 the seal was found at Makua Beach on Friday.

Beachgoers tried to save the seal but it was too late, and its death also deals a blow to research itself.

The seal, RW08 or better known as Kerby, was 9 years old and was known to NOAA researchers since its birth.

NOAA said this wasn’t the first time the endangered species has died due to fish netting.

“All evidence right now would point that the animal got entangled and drowned,” Charles Littnan, lead scientist for the NOAA Hawaiian Monk Seal Program, said. “Anytime you lose an animal it’s a blow to the people that are out every day, the people that are out trying to protect them. Our program.”

Along with the seal’s death, NOAA is dealing with another loss. Researchers recently tagged Kerby with a camera to study his behavior, but his body wasn’t recovered.

“The members of the public who had found the seal had disentangled it, brought the net in, then went to try and recover RW08. And by that time another seal had come by and was actually being quite defensive,” Littnan explained.

NOAA said Kerby was one of only 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals in the world. Researchers said it’s a huge loss for science and the community.

Since 1994, five Hawaiian monk seals have died in fishing nets.

NOAA documented three other cases where seals either escaped or were released.

Environmental group 808 Cleanups told KHON2 it’s removed 11,000 lbs. of fishing nets and other marine debris so far this year.

“Typically we pick up a net about once a week,” Fawn Liebengood, asst. director with 808 Cleanups, said. “People are required to register the net, but oftentimes they don’t tag the net, the part that can float away, so it can be really difficult to keep people accountable.”

Littnan hopes the seal’s death will raise awareness.

“It’s situations like this that hopefully make fisherman stop and think, scientists stop and think, make everybody stop and think what can we do better to protect the things that we do and protect the animals that are trying to coexist with us,” Littnan said.

NOAA said it’s possible the data from their research could still be recovered if the seal’s body washes ashore.

“There is the chance that we might be able to recover it, and we hope we do, but ultimately the big news is the tragedy of the loss of this valuable seal,” Littnan said.

The seal’s death is under investigation, so if you have any information you’re also asked to give NOAA’s Enforcement Hotline a call at 800-853-1964.

If you come across an injured or dead seal, NOAA said you should leave it in place and call 888-256-9840.

If you find a fish net in the water or on the beach, you can contact 808 Cleanups at 808-892-3464

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