An endangered Hawaiian monk seal has died after wandering into a net pen and becoming trapped at a fish farm funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Hawaii. Officials with NOAA said the death of the 10-year-old monk seal happened at Blue Ocean Mariculture, the same fish farm that NOAA's National Marine Fishery Service has been using for research in conjunction with a plan to expand aquaculture into federal waters around the Pacific. NOAA officials said they believe the seal drowned after the farm operators opened one panel of a net pen to release a shark that had gotten inside, per the AP. Only about 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals are left in the wild, according to official estimates.
"We did not see any signs of trauma or entanglement or any gashes or lacerations," says NOAA's National Marine Fishery Service's David Schofield, the marine mammal response coordinator for the region. "The seal, B18, had a stomach full of fish and otherwise appeared in good body condition so we can draw no other conclusion than that the animal did die in the fish pen likely due to drowning or suffocation." Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources Chair Suzanne Case said in a statement that the death is a tragedy and that the state will work with federal officials to prevent something similar from happening again. (Read more endangered species stories.)