A Hawaiian monk seal being treated for toxoplasmosis at a marine mammal hospital has died. The male was one of just four of Hawaiian monk seals (Monachus schauinslandi) to be rescued prior to death from the disease, which is spread by Hawaii’s feral cat population. Only an estimated 1,300 Hawaiian sea monks exist in the wild. Known as RW22, the Hawaiian monk seal was rescued after being found with fishing line in his mouth off the island of Oahu. Biologists discovered it also had symptoms of toxoplasmosis, a disease spread by cat feces. Researchers believe monk seals become exposed by swallowing contaminated water or prey. One study found Oahu has an estimated 300,000 feral cats.
“Toxoplasmosis is the number one disease threat to recovery of these endangered animals,” said Angela Amlin, Hawaiian monk seal recovery coordinator at NOAA Fisheries, in a press release from The Marine Mammal Center.