Hawaiian Monk Seal on a Beach


SPECIES-  Hawaiian Monk Seal  (Monachus schauinslandi)

CURRENT RANGE-  Hawaiian Islands

CURRENT THREAT-  Human encroachment, entanglement in fishing nets, low levels of genetic variation

CONSERVATION STATUS-  Critically Endangered

WHERE YOU CAN SEE THEM-  Laysan, Midway, Pearl and Hermes Atoll, French Frigate Shoals, Lisianski and, occasionally, the beaches of Hawaii’s Big Island.



Known to Hawaii’s Polynesian natives as “Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua,” or “dog that runs in rough water,” the Hawaiian Monk Seal is one of only two monk seal species left in the world (the other is the Mediterranean Monk Seal). They’re closely related to harbor seals, but are easily distinguishable by their grey coat, white belly and slim physique, which makes them extremely agile swimmers perfectly suited for fishing for octopus, squid and fish in deep water coral beds. Members of the Phocidae family (meaning they have no external ears and can’t rotate their back flippers underneath them), Hawaiian monk seals vary in size from 200-300 pound males to females that can weigh up to 600 pounds and measure 8 feet long. Though the species’ evolutionary history is still up for debate, scientists believe they migrated to Hawaii from the North Atlantic 4-11 million years ago.


Hawaiian Monk Seal Pup



With a population estimated around 1100, the Hawaiian Monk Seal faces so many threats, one wonders if they aren’t doomed to go the way of their extinct cousin, the Caribbean Monk Seal. Hunting by humans for meat, skins and oil in the 19th and 20th centuries nearly wiped them out. They still face myriad issues ranging from low juvenile survival rate (due to shark attacks, starvation due to reduced prey and getting tangled in marine debris) and habitat shrinking due to erosion in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands to overfishing of lobsters (one of their favorite foods) and low levels of genetic variability caused by over-hunting in the past.


Declared an endangered species in 1976, Hawaiian Monk Seals are now protected by the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. In 2006, Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument was created, encompassing 140,000 square miles and including 10 Hawaiian islands and atolls, to protect the marine ecosystem of the area. In 2008, the seal was declared Hawaii’s official State Mammal to help raise public awareness of the species’ plight. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has funded research on the population’s dynamics and health, forming a major network of volunteers to help protect them while they bask on Hawaii’s beaches and nurse their young. And in 2011, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service issues a controversial plan to improve protections for the seals, including  a de-worming program for juveniles, relocation from the main islands to the Northwestern islands, diet supplements at feeding stations, and even chemical alteration of aggressive seal behaviors. It may sound excessive, but sometimes it takes aggressive action to save a species…  –Bret Love


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10 Responses to ENDANGERED SPECIES SPOTLIGHT- Hawaiian Monk Seal

  • Alexandra says:

    I love our Monk Seals! It is sad to see how bothered they get by people on the islands when they make a rare beach visit. They often just sun themselves on secluded beaches and while they wildlife departments come and rope off the area around them and constantly supervise the area so no one touches the animals they still are swarmed with people taking pictures and gawking at them! Only a little over a 1000 left… So sad!

    • Carl Winchester says:

      I feel your heartfelt comment Alexandra. A lot of care should be taken to the monk seals before they become extinct.

  • Cole @ Four Jandals says:

    I hate that there are so many endangered species you guys are finding! And why are they always the cutest ones.

  • Leigh says:

    I like your endangered series posts. Hopefully once the fall rolls around you can reach out – somehow – to schoolkids, since they’re the ones that can get their parents to make changes.

    Cute photos though I am always saddened by the fact that humans cause so much destruction.

    • Bret Love says:

      Thanks, Leigh! We’re still trying to figure out how to reach the readers that can most benefit from our “Go Green” stories (Eco News, Sustainable Living Tips, Endangered Species, etc). We’re part of an Education Bloggers FB group, so hopefully we’ll connect with someone there who might have good ideas.

  • Kristin says:

    Something should indeed be done to protect the monk seals. They are in great danger of being extinct.

  • Daniel Meloy says:

    It would be so sad if these beautiful creatures went extinct. There are so many ways everybody can contribute to and help with the alleviation of danger for these animals and animals all over the world. If everybody tried to do one thing a month to help, the world would be a much better place!

  • Mahalo for your article on our Hawaiian Monk Seals. They really need all the good press they can get. Their future does look bleak, but there are a good many people trying to save them … unfortunately, there are those who kill them, something their population just cannot take. 🙁

  • I meant to add that Niranjana Rengarajan on Facebook shared your article. 😉

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