Hawaiian Monk Seals
February 20, 2012
Monk seals, perhaps named so because of their monk like looks or their solitary nature, are the oldest species of seals on the planet. Hawaiian monk seals have lived in the Hawaiian Islands for several million years and are referred to as “living fossils”. This is because they have barely changed since prehistoric times. These incredible creatures have a great history here in Kauai and the Hawaiian Islands. They are striving to survive; while on the brink of extinction. In the following paragraphs Hawaiian monk seals, their endangerment, and the measures being taken to prevent their extinction will be covered.
There are three types of monk seal: the Mediterranean Monk Seal, the Caribbean Monk Seal, and the Hawaiian Monk Seal. Unfortunately, the Caribbean Monk Seal is now extinct and lives on as a memory of what will happen to the remaining two species if preventative measures are not taken. Hawaiian Monk Seals are one of only two mammals endemic to Hawaii; the other is the hoary bat. They are also the most endangered marine mammal in US waters. The total remaining population of Hawaiian Monk Seals is approximately 1,100-1,200.
The Hawaiian Monk seal is a grey or brown color on their dorsal side and a lighter grey to yellowish brown on their ventral side. Adults weigh anywhere from 400 to 600 pounds and are usually 6 to 8 feet long. Pups have black fur when they are born, which they lose when they enter the weaning period. They usually weigh between 25 and 30 pounds at birth and grow close to 200 pounds in the following six weeks. After the six-week nursing period the mother weans or leaves the pup. These interesting sea creatures are Hawaii’s official state mammal and are known in Hawaiian as Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua, which means “dog running in rough seas, or Na mea hulu, which means “the furry one (National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA).
According to the Kauai Monk Seal Watch Program, during the 19th and 20th centuries sealers, shipwrecked crews, feather hunters and guano diggers killed or so disturbed Hawaiian Monk Seals that their numbers greatly diminished. From 1912 to the beginning of World War II the Hawaiian Monk Seals had very little contact with humans and were able to replenish their numbers. However, with the start of World War II and the increasing military activity here in the Hawaiian archipelago their numbers began to decline once again. Therefore, in 1976 the federal government listed the Hawaiian Monk Seal as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/laws/esa/) and “depleted” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/laws/mmpa/) that same year.
Hawaiian Monk Seals full life span is 25 to 30 years. Some causes of premature death today are lack of prey and ensuing emaciation. The tiger shark is its main predator, but young and emaciated Hawaiian Monk Seals are susceptible to other sharks. Entanglement in marine debris is also a factor that causes fatalities in the Hawaiian monk seal. In Kauai the most common cause of death is entanglement in marine debris and collision with boat propellers (Kauai Monk Seal Watch Program). The following link will educate you on the Guidelines for Viewing Hawaiian Monk Seals while here in Kauai: http://www.kauaimonkseal.com/GuidelinesForViewing.html.
If you would like to get involved and help save the Hawaiian Monk Seal check out this link: http://www.nameahulu.org/about/ .