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Saving the Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal

a bird swimming in water

The Hawaiian monk seal is endemic to Hawaii, meaning they are found nowhere else on earth. You might get lucky and catch one of these cuties sunbathing on the beach or playing in the waves. According to NOAA, there are only about 1600 Hawaiian monk seals in the wild and they are classified as critically endangered. Fortunately, thanks to incredible conservation efforts, these numbers are on the rise for the first time in six decades! 

In recent years, we at Ko Olina Ocean Adventures have noticed an uptick in seal sightings first-hand! We want to take a moment to celebrate this beautiful native species and commend the efforts that have been put forth to protect them. 

a seal lying on the ground next to a body of water

Source: Smithsonian Magazine

About the Hawaiian Monk Seal

Monk seals are born with a fuzzy black coat that transforms into a sleek gray as they grow older. Their large playful eyes provide excellent underwater vision, and their long thick whiskers help them to navigate and hunt. Monk seals use their fins and tail to propel through the water in quick bursts and are capable of holding their breath for up to 20 minutes.

Typically feeding on small fish, squid and crustaceans, these massive mammals require quite a bit of food to satisfy their 400 – 600 lb frames. 

When it’s time to rest, monk seals love to lounge on the sand – sometimes for days at a time! Mothers also retreat to the beach when it’s time to give birth and raise their young.

a group of people sitting at a beach

Source: Maui Now

Threats and Conservation Efforts

Entanglement in plastic debris and fishing gear, habitat loss due to coastal development, and exposure to disease are among the factors that have led to the decline of the Hawaiian monk seal population.  

In 1976 the Hawaiian monk seal was listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act, yet protection efforts didn’t really take off until the re-establishment of the Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Plan in the early 2000s. Since then, notable steps have been taken to save our seals, including:

  • The opening of a monk seal rehabilitation facility on the Big Island to provide care for injured and malnourished seals.
  • A massive vaccination effort to protect monk seals against viruses.
  • The tagging and tracking of monk seals to monitor their movements and gain insight into their patterns and potential threats.
  • The removal of hazardous debris on our coastlines and in our waters.
a group of people that are standing in the dirt

Volunteering with Ocean Defenders Alliance to clean debris

Join the Fight! 

The future of the Hawaiian monk seal rests on our collective action. Here’s how you can be part of the solution:

  • Reduce plastic use: Every step towards reducing single-use plastics and proper waste disposal helps safeguard the ocean environment where monk seals find sustenance.
  • Support conservation efforts: Donate or volunteer your time to organizations who are actively working on monk seal recovery programs.
  • Spread the Aloha Spirit: Share information and raise awareness about the plight of the Hawaiian monk seal. Educate others and inspire action through social media and responsible tourism.
  • Respect These Island Dwellers: Always maintain a safe distance (50ft minimum and 150ft for moms and their pups). Never feed or interact with a monk seal, and keep your dog leashed to avoid any potential interactions.

By supporting conservation efforts and making conscious choices, we can ensure that the Hawaiian monk seal continues to grace our shores. A healthy ocean is not just vital for the survival of this remarkable creature, it’s essential for the health of our entire planet. Let’s turn the tide and create a future where these gentle giants can thrive in their island paradise once again. 

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)