A young Hawaiian monk seal rescued last week after accidentally swallowing a fishing hook has been released back into the wild after its successful rescue and rehabilitation, according to wildlife officials.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with its partners, released the male monk seal, formerly known as N2, back to the ocean Wednesday from an undisclosed coastline off of Oahu. They gave N2 new flipper tags, which now identify him as R7AF.

NOAA and volunteers from the nonprofit Hawaii Marine Animal Response located R7AF on Jan. 27 on the shoreline of Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve a few days after a call to the NOAA hotline reported the seal with a wire fishing leader and swivel hanging from its mouth.

The seal was transported by the U.S. Coast Guard to The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola in Kailua-Kona, a hospital specializing in the animals, where a veterinary team was able to extricate the large, barbed fish hook safely while he was under anesthesia.

Officials said the hook was attached to nine inches of leader wire and a “pigtail” swivel, commonly used in “slide bait” fishing.

“To quickly return this hooked juvenile seal back to his ocean home is an incredible success story and a testament to the importance of our ongoing partnerships to help save this species,” says Dr. Sophie Whoriskey, the Center’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Veterinarian, in a news release. “As the only partner organization permitted by NOAA Fisheries to treat and rehabilitate Hawaiian monk seals, we’re proud to help give R7AF a second chance at life especially when the survival of each individual is critical to the recovery of the population.”

Hawaiian monk seals, with a population of only about 1,400 left in the wild, are an endangered species protected by state and federal laws.

Wildlife officials will monitor the seal for the next few weeks, identifiable by his flipper tags as well as the temporary N2 bleach mark in his back.

The public is encouraged to report sightings of R7AF to the NOAA marine wildlife hotline at 1-888-256-9840.

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