Hawaiian Monk Seal, RL72, Returns To Maui After Surgery

Hawaiian monk seal, RL72, was rescued on Maui on March 30, 2022 after it was discovered that he ingested a fishing hook. He was flown by the Coast Guard to Hawaii Island where he received surgery and was released. Read the story of RL72’s rescue here.

On April 21, 2022, in Hawaii Island waters, RL72 was released back into the ocean. He was equipped with a GPS tracker and a temporary bleach mark on his side with the letters “HI”. Over two months later, on June 30, 2022, RL72 was spotted by us on Maui for the first time! When you look at the pictures you will see the GPS tracker attached to his back, the letters “HI” on his side, and red flipper tags on his hind flippers. The tags say “L72” on one flipper and “L73” on the other flipper. He is called “R”L72 because the tag is Red. Red tags mean the seal is part of the Main Hawaiian Island population group. Seals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands have tags with different colors.

It is common for Hawaiian Monk Seals in the Main Island population group to swim between the islands. In some cases, seals have even swum between the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the Main Hawaiian Islands. In one famous case in 2021, a six-year-old female seal, designated as KG54, swam 1,300 miles from Kure Atoll, the northernmost island in the chain, in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, to O‘ahu in only about a month.

So, while it was not surprising that RL72 returned to Maui, it was very exciting to see! He has a large scar on his ventral side (stomach) from the surgery that can clearly be seen in the pictures. The scar appears to be healing well. The GPS tracker on his back is affixed with a type of glue that is safe for the seal and the environment. Hawaiian monk seals molt annually, losing all their fur and the top layer of their skin and the GPS tracker will come off with that molt.

While the tracker is still on him it sends intermittent signals to NOAA who records the seals travels for scientific reasons. The GPS is not real time, so it is likely we saw RL72 on Maui before NOAA received and reviewed any GPS signals. NOAA occasionally makes the routes of tracked seals available to the public and we will share RL72’s on Maui Monk Seal should it become available.

RL72 returned to Maui on a busy beach, the same beach we first saw him hauled out back in November of 2021! How they find their way between islands and back to the same beaches is a bit of a mystery. Hundreds of people saw RL72 on June 30th and we told as many as we could about his special significance and journey. Everyone was respectful and stayed out of the Seal Resting Area established around him.

E komi mai to RL72!

Please review our Maui and Monk Seal Fine Art Collection. Part of all sales goes towards helping the seals. Mahalo.

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