Marine Conservation Biology Institute Marine Conservation Biology Institute
   
Marine Conservation Biology Institute

Hawaiian Monk Seals

Ilio-holo-ikauaua (ee-lee-o holo ee ka ooa-ooa) meaning ‘dog that runs in the sea ’                                  

Hawaiian Monk Seal
A hawaiian monk seal swimming. Image: James Watt/NOAA

The Hawaiian monk seal has thrived for the past 13 million years in the oceanic waters and coral reefs of the Hawaiian Islands. Today, the Hawaiian monk seal is critically endangered and headed toward extinction. Hawaiian monk seals are the most endangered endemic marine mammal in the USA and one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world. Over the last 50 years, the Hawaiian monk seal population has declined by more than 60% and is now at its lowest level in recorded history. Fewer than 1200 Hawaiian monk seals remain in the wild. Reasons for the decline of the monk seal include: overfishing, limited food availability, entanglement in marine debris, habitat loss, shark predation, competition for food, aggressive male behavior, deaths of pups, an aging population, harmful algal blooms, and global climate change.


Most Hawaiian monk seals can be found around the Northwest Hawaiian Islands in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, but a small, but growing number now live in the main Hawaiian Islands. Hawaiian monk seals spend the vast majority of their lives at sea, but do come to shore to give birth, molt, and to find shelter in large storms. They forage on the coral reefs and sandy bottoms and eat fish and invertebrates including: reef fish, flatfish, eels, octopus, and lobsters.  They mature at 5-10 years of age and can live for 25-30 years, although many new seal pups fail to reach adulthood. 


It’s essential to move forward with Hawaiian monk seal recovery now. Every year we wait brings the Hawaiian monk seals closer to extinction. Survival rates of monk seal pups have dropped from 80-90% in the 1970s to lower than 15% today. As the older breeding females begin to pass away, there are fewer younger animals maturing, which could lead to a catastrophic collapse of the entire population. Unless major actions are taken toward recovery in the next 5 or 10 years, the population of Hawaiian monk seals will continue to decline. Hawaiian monk seals need our help now. With adequate public and private support and effective state and federal management we will be able turn this situation around. MCBI is working to save the monk seal by encouraging federal and state governments and agencies to increase the amount of money and support that goes toward monk seal recovery and management, by raising awareness of the plight of the Hawaiian Monk Seal, and by building partnerships between public and private agencies to work together to recover this amazing species.

 

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