Kauai’s Monk Seals

web monkseals Poipu beach text frame  IMG_2539

Yesterday we were delighted to come across a very rare sight on the island of Kauai.  We saw these two charming and very endangered monk seals on the beach.  The monk seal was named for its folds of skin that resemble a monk’s hood.

There are fewer than 1,300 monk seals left in the world.  The seals are the rarest mammal in the entire world.  A couple of days before a mother monk seal came ashore to miscarry a pup and the placenta.  The monk seals’ birth rate is not very successful and many mourn such a loss.  The mother was so exhausted that she actually stayed ashore for more than 3 days.  She finally left and went back into the water.  Everyone was so worried about her and rejoiced when she was able to leave the shoreline on her own.

Volunteers for the monk seals have tagged each seal and they are known by that number or name.  The scars on the seals also help to identify them for those who are monitoring them.

The two seals in the photograph are 2 different monk seals that came ashore to rest and then play in the water.  It was so fun to watch these two in their play routine.  They are similar to little children as they bate each other in “seal play.”

The following information can be located at The Marine Mammal Center:

“………….Animal Classification
Monachus schauinslandi

The ancient Hawaiian name was “llio holo I ka uaua” meaning “dog that runs in rough water.” The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world, and the rarest seal or sea lion in US waters. Weighing between 375-450 pounds (170-205 kg) and 7-7.5 feet (2.1-2.3 m) in length, females are slightly larger than males. Pups are 35 pounds (16 kg) at birth and 3 feet (1 m) long. Silvery-grey colored backs with lighter creamy coloration on their underside; newborns are black. Additional light patches and red and green tinged coloration from attached algae are common. The back of the animals may become darker with age, especially in males. Monk seals are known to live between 25-30 years.

The Hawaiian monk seal’s entire range is within U.S. waters. The majority of monk seals live in six main breeding subpopulations in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) at:

Kure Atoll
Midway Islands
Pearl and Hermes Reef
Lisianski Island
Laysan Island
French Frigate Shoals
Monk seals live in warm subtropical waters and spend two-thirds of their time at sea. They use waters surrounding atolls, islands, and areas farther offshore on reefs and submerged banks. Monk seals are also found using deepwater coral beds as foraging habitat. When on land, monk seals breed and haul-out on sand, corals, and volcanic rock. Sandy, protected beaches surrounded by shallow waters are preferred when pupping. Monk seals are often seen resting on beaches during the day.

Smaller breeding sub-populations also occur on Necker Island and Nihoa Island, and monk seals have been observed at Gardner Pinnacles and Maro Reef. Most of the population is within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, designated in 2006. Monk seals are now also found on the main Hawaiian Islands (MHI) where births have occurred on many of the major islands…………”

Additional information can be found at The Marine Mammal Center..about Hawaiian Monkseal:

“………In 1976, the Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi) was listed as an endangered species. Today, more than 30 years later, it has the unfortunate status as the most endangered pinniped in the United States.
Hawaiian Monk Seal KP2
© NOAA Permit #932-1489-09

The Hawaiian monk seal population has declined at a rate of three to four percent per year over the past decade, recently reaching a low of fewer than 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals left in existence. Moreover, a newborn monk seal has only a one-in-five chance of surviving to adulthood. This is dismal news for a species found only in Hawaii and that has been in existence for more than 15 million years.

There are some hopeful signs on the horizon however. Significant efforts have been made to enhance the recovery of the species in the past few years, including the removal of several tons of ocean trash from monk seal habitat and translocating animals from low survival areas to higher survival areas.

Early indications are that the hard work is paying off. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) teams reported 121 monk seal pups were born in the 2014 season, compared with 103 pups in 2013 and 111 pups in 2012. The total population is now estimated to be around 1,200.

Of these, approximately 150 are in the Main Hawaiian Islands, and 1,050 are in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. For reasons such as shark predation, food shortages and marine debris, the monk seals on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are having a harder time than their counterparts on the Main Islands. However, the seals on the Main Islands are also increasingly victims of marine debris and other negative human interactions, such as gun shots and harassment.

Some facts about the Hawaiian monk seal:

The Hawaiian Monk Seal is the official state mammal of Hawaii.
Hawaiian monk seals have a diet that consists mainly of fish, squid, octopus, and lobster.
They hunt mainly at night and often haul out on sandy beaches during the daytime.
Mating season is from December until mid-August.
Pups are approximately three feet long at the time of birth and weigh about 35 pounds. They spend their first 35 to 40 days with their mother while they nurse.
Most Hawaiian monk seals are found in six main breeding subpopulations in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI): Kure Atoll, Midway Islands, Pearl and Hermes Reef, Lisianski Island, Laysan Island, and French Frigate Shoals.
Hawaiian law makes it a felony to harm a Hawaiian monk seal. Violators face fines up to $50,000…..”

If you spot a Hawaiian monk seal, call our 24-hour hotline to report the sighting at 808-987-0765.

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