Archive for February, 2021

As shared last week in the mortality of Hawaiian Monk Seals in the Main Hawaiian Islands, juvenile seals died most frequently from direct human interaction. The two juveniles who died last fall were, likely, not the first to drown in lay gill nets over the years.

If you are not familiar with lay gill nets, they are used for recreational and subsistence fishing. A lay net is a monofilament mesh net with cork floats along the top and lead weights along the bottom, which creates a vertical curtain that entraps fish. Occasionally turtles, seals, and larger fish such as sharks get entrapped as well. The rules for legal use of lay nets on Kauai are detailed and somewhat confusing, however the primary rules on Kauai are as follows:

· No longer than 125 feet long and 7 feet tall. Minimum mesh size 2 ¾ inches stretched.

· Can be used for no longer than 4 hours in a 24-hour period, must not leave unattended for more than 30 minutes, and must be checked at the 2 hour point to release unwanted catch and any endangered species.

· Cannot be used at night (1/2 hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise)

· Must have a surface buoy with the registration tag attached at each end.

 Some of the most common violations that we see on Kauai are:

· Illegally setting the lay gill net at sunset and retrieving it in the morning. This is illegal and poses a serious threat to seals and turtles. 

· Hiding the net by not using properly marked surface buoys at each end. Unregistered nets that are set so the only thing visible on the surface is a single plastic bottle. 

· Illegally setting lay nets in freshwater rivers, streams or canals, or across a stream mouth. They can only be used saltwater.

If you see a lay net being used illegally, please call the hotline (651-7668) immediately and we will work with the DOCARE officers to take the appropriate action.

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An estimated 300 Hawaiian monk seals live in the Main Hawaiian Islands. Late last year, NOAA released a paper reporting the major threats to Hawaiian Monk Seals in the Main Hawaiian Islands. The study summarized the causes of deaths for 114 seals from 1992 to 2019. The results revealed that more than half of these 114 seal deaths were caused by humans.

Here’s a breakdown:

  • 57 percent were human caused, including 14 percent of the deaths from toxoplasmosis, a disease that is present in Hawaii in the feces of cats. This disease is considered a human-caused threat, because cats were introduced to Hawaii by humans. Cats are not native to Hawaii. Other types of human-caused deaths include drowning in gill nets, intentional killing, and death due to complications of ingestion of fish hooks.
  • 35 percent were due to natural causes. This category includes malnutrition and natural diseases.
  • 8 percent were due to other diseases.

A few patterns were reported by age categories and sex, like:

  • Nursing pups died predominantly from natural causes.
  • Juvenile seals died most frequently from direct human interaction. 
  • Adult females were most commonly killed by toxoplasmosis.

While the population of Hawaiian monk seals in the Main Hawaiian Islands has been growing slowly over the past 20 years, these anthropogenic mortalities are impacting the recovery of the species. These threats are unlike those found in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands where an estimated 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals are found.

For more information on this report, click here.

To read the scientific report published in Marine Mammal Science, click here.

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Turtle Tuesday #6: Volunteer Response

In January, a volunteer swimming at Anini Beach noticed a turtle struggling to swim. The turtle attempted to haul out on the beach while dragging marine debris. The volunteer called the Kauai Marine Animal Stranding Hotline to report a large green sea turtle had hauled up on beach entangled with monofilament, a stick, and wire from what appeared to be the remains of a crab trap. The volunteer sent photos and described a cord wrapped deeply around the joint of the left fore flipper.  Fortunately the distal flipper was not swollen and the turtle was still able to move it normally, so the circulation was not restricted by the entanglement. This is important to note, because if the flipper was swollen and/or if there was indication of circulation and/or tissue loss, the sea turtle would have needed veterinary attention. Following instructions from the stranding coordinator, a couple of other beach goers assisted with keeping the turtle quiet while the volunteer used a special tool to cut and unwind the cord until it was completely removed.

The turtle was able to use the freed fore flipper, but unfortunately, while the turtle had been entangled by the marine debris, it had been preyed upon by a shark. The photos sent by the volunteer showed a shark bite amputation of tail and lacerations to rear flippers. After more consultations with the NOAA Sea Turtle Stranding Program, the decision was made to monitor the turtle on the beach.  For the next several days, the turtle was spotted resting at several spots along the beach while it healed, indicating it had been in the water swimming and, presumably, foraging.

 Sea turtles and other protected species are accidentally caught in many types of fishing gear, including commercial and recreational gear. When swimming near rod and reel fishing gear, sea turtles can become hooked on the body or entangled in the fishing line. Sea turtles may also be attracted to fishing bait and become hooked in the mouth or swallow the hook. These interactions can occur anywhere sea turtles are found.

For air-breathing organisms, such as the green sea turtle, entanglement in debris can prevent animals from being able to swim to the surface, causing them to drown. To help prevent entanglements:

  • Pick up rubbish at the beach. Don’t litter.
  • Do not feed, touch, crowd or tease them.
  • Do not cast fishing lines where turtles are seen. If you hook or entangle a turtle, do not lift turtle above the water by pulling on the line; this will cause further injury. Cut away the line as close as possible to the hook. Remove the hook only if the turtle is lightly hooked.
  • If you encounter a turtle with a serious cut, or with ingested or deeply embedded fishing line or hooks, keep the turtle in shade and seek medical care. Immediately call your local stranding assistance number for Kauai at 808-651-7668.

Recommendations to Reduce Injuries if you Hook or Entangle a Sea Turtle:

  • Call your local stranding network immediately. On Kauai, call 808-651-7668.
  • Keep hands away from the turtle’s mouth and flippers.
  • Use a net or lift by the shell to bring the turtle on the pier or land. Do NOT lift by the hook or pulling on the line. If the turtle is too large to net or lift, try to walk it to the beach.
  • When you have control of the sea turtle, use blunt scissors or knife to cut the line. Leave at least 2 ft. of line to allow for dehooking by trained responders.
  • Leave the hook in place as removing it could cause more harm.
  • Keep the turtle out of direct sunlight, and cover the shell with a damp towel.
  • If you cannot reach the response team and are unable to bring the turtle to shore, cut the line as short as possible before releasing the turtle.

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News Release:


February 3, 2021 


Three Seals Found Dead in Anahola Area Late Last Year 

(HONOLULU) – It’s believed drowning is the likely cause of death of at least two of three Hawaiian monk seals found dead on Kaua‘i last September, November, and December.  

Constraints caused by the COVID-19 pandemic delayed completion of post-mortem examinations. However, considering recently received lab test results and information gathered by law enforcement officials, NOAA now believes the seals found in September and November likely died after becoming entangled in lay gill nets. The third seal was severely decomposed, making it difficult to determine the cause of death. 

While the vast majority of fishers in Hawaii continue to practice safe, sustainable, and pono fishing methods, some continue to fish recklessly, with devastating impact on native and endangered species. This is particularly common with lay gill net fishers.  

DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) rules require that a gill net used in the lay net fishing method not be left unattended for more than ½ hour after being set and should be physically checked in its entirety two hours after its initial set. The best rule of thumb for lay net fishing is to always be present and vigilant when nets are set. 

Because interactions between monk seals and lay nets continue to escalate, officers from the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) have been increasing patrols, resulting in the removal of more unattended nets across the state.  

DLNR Chair Suzanne Case said, “These monk seal deaths are, yet again, terrible and unnecessary losses.  Monofilament (made from nylon fishing line) lay nets are imported modern fishing gear that is indiscriminate and deadly and have been banned elsewhere in the U.S.  We are in discussions regarding how best to ensure seals and turtles are protected given ongoing drownings in lay nets.” 

DAR Administrator Brian Neilson added, “Our state resources, both the fish we use for food and recreation, and the rare and endangered species that call these waters home are important parts of the history, traditions, and living resources we cherish. It is important that we find the balance to respect all our marine life. That means following respectful and logical regulations put in place to protect all resources both now and into the future.” 

Keeping an eye out for illegal, unattended nets and contacting authorities if you see one is of great help to all fishers and our native species. Anyone encountering a lay net or observing seals in close proximity to nets, please report it immediately via the free DLNRTip app or by calling 643-DLNR (3567). 

# # # 

NOAA also provided an update here, adding, “Lay gill nets have proven to be one of the top threats monk seals face in the main Hawaiian Islands. While many seal deaths go undetected, net drowning causes roughly 20 percent of known deaths in seals younger than 5 years old.”

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Field Report: January 2021

  • The Kauai team logged 124 seal sightings this month. This included 22 individually identified seals.
    • January: 125
    • December: 119
    • November: 133
    • October: 152
    • September: 152
    • August: 198
    • July: 120
    • June: 81
    • May: 147
    • April: 117
    • March: 200
    • February: 264
    • January: 319


  • Yearling seals PK1 and PK2 were both vaccinated for morbillivirus this month.
  • Adult female RK13 was observed logging in Moikeha Canal in Kapaa for about a week and then eventually hauled out on her usual beaches in the Kapaa area. She has minor bite injuries on the right front flipper, possibly from dog or shark bites. We continue to closely monitor for infection.


  • OLE and DOCARE investigation in the suspicious deaths of 3 seals continues. A $20,000 NOAA reward for information was issued. 
  • The three pups born in 2020 continue to be routinely sighted and are all in good body condition.
  • Due to COVID-19 stay-at-home measures, our new methods of monitoring continue, which include:
    • Weekly surveys of key beaches by staff;
    • Dar staff conducting weekly island-wide Creel Surveys;
    • PMRF staff continuing to send in routine reports and photos;
    • Requesting that people who call the hotline to report seals assist us by sending several photos and setting up SRA signs and/or sticks.


  • Volunteer program remains on hold due to COVID-19.

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