Hawaiian officials are urging people to properly discard of their trash, after a baby seal was spotted playing with a fishing knife earlier this week.
On Tuesday, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) shared a minute-long video on its Facebook page of a seal pup diving near rocks before it grabbed a bright orange fishing knife by its mouth.
According to the DNLR, the young animal is a Hawaiian monk seal pup named Manu‘iwa, that was recently weaned from its mother on a Hawaii Island beach.
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Manu‘iwa’s wellbeing, including its health and growth, is currently being monitored by the staff from Ke Kai Ola — a hospital operated by The Marine Mammal Center at Kailua-Kona — along with officers from the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE).
“There was real concern that the seal pup might swallow the knife,” the DOCARE officer, who captured the incident on video, said in a statement released by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.
“It’s a reminder to all of us to properly dispose of our trash and not to leave it on Hawai‘i’s beaches or in the ocean,” the statement continued.
According to the DNLR, animal experts say that it’s critical for seal pups, especially after they’ve been weaned from their mothers, to not interact with humans, so that they can learn to be wild animals.
Some social media users tried to poke fun at the situation, however, the Marine Mammal Center, Ke Kai Ola, was quick to point out that it wasn’t something to joke about.
“Too easy to make jokes about ‘Good marine life going bad’…,” the Center commented on Facebook.
“But this is a serious illustration of why beach cleanups and other efforts to keep plastic debris out of our oceans and rivers,” the statement continued. “We’ve rescued and performed surgery on monk seals and sea lions who ingested fishing gear (never a knife… yet…).”
The Center went on to explain that once an object is inside the animal, there is no way to get “the painful obstruction” out.
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Added the Center: “And we’ve rescued many, many others who have been entangled in everything from fishing nets to crab traps to fishing line to packing straps… all non-biodegradable and made of material that doesn’t expand as the animal grows. Instead, it cuts deeper into their body.”
The Hawaiian monk seal has been on the endangered species list since 1976, and is now the most endangered seal in the United States, reports the Marine Mammal Center. According to the Center, there are less than 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals left, and a newborn only has a one-in-five chance of surviving to adulthood.
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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of National Marine Fisheries asks any who sees a monk seal to report their sightings to the local Marine Mammal Response Coordinator.