The Hawaiian Monk Seal is special and all ours. The Hawaiian Monk Seal is one of only two mammal species endemic to the Hawaiian Islands and exist nowhere else on Earth. It is the official state mammal of Hawaiʻi. The seal’s scientific name is Neomonachus schauinslandi named after Dr. Hugo Hermann Schauinsland, a German scientist who conducted research in the Pacific in the late 1800s.
• Adult Hawaiian Monk Seals are about 6-7 feet in length and can weigh up to 400-600 pounds. Males and females are similar in size and appearance. • Hawaiian Monk Seals have a lifespan of up to 25-30 years. • Seals molt, or shed the top layer of their skin and fur, once a year. • In order to distinguish between male and female seals, researchers must look at its belly. Both have an umbilicus, females have nipples, and males have a penile opening and groove. • The majority of Hawaiian Monk Seals have distinct natural markings like scars that aid in identification. Some seals have flipper tags and temporary bleach marks applied by NOAA Fisheries personnel that help to identify and track individual seals.
What it eats
• Their diet consists mainly of fish, squid, octopus, and lobster. An adult only eats 3-8% of its body weight of food. • They hunt mainly at night and often haul out on sandy beaches during the daytime. • Scientists have found that Hawaiian Monk Seals can dive really deep using crittercams to track their behavior.
• Mating season is from December until mid-August. • The gestation (pregnancy) period for the Hawaiian Monk Seal is 10-11 months. • Pups (baby seals) 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. • Seals need space on land to bear pups, molt, and rest. • Most Hawaiian monk seals are found in six main breeding subpopulations in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands: Kure Atoll, Midway Islands, Pearl and Hermes Reef, Lisianski Island, Laysan Island, and French Frigate Shoals. • The Hawaiian Monk Seal population is growing in the Main Hawaiian Islands.
Not so fun facts
• It is a felony to harm a Hawaiian monk seal. Violators face fines up to $50,000! • The Hawaiian Monk Seal population began to decline in the 1800s to the 1900s due to the hunting of seals for their prized meat and blubber. • While the Hawaiian Monk Seal population is increasing in the Main Hawaiian islands, it had been declining at the rate of 4% a year in the Northwestern Hawaiian islands, its main habitat. The most recent annual population assessment shows an increase in numbers by 3% annually for the past three years. - Despite the upward trend, there are still only 1,400 Hawaiian Monk Seals left in the world (about 1,100 in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and 300 in the main Hawaiian Islands) and without our kōkua, they could go extinct. • Hawaiian Monk Seals face numerous threats leading it to become one of the most endangered animal species in the world. Hawaiian Monk Seals became classified as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1976. They are also protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).
• The main threats are: -Starvation -Aggressive male seals attacking other seals -Unusual shark predation on pups -Entanglement in marine debris and fishing gear -Habitat loss due to climate change and human development -Human disturbance -Infectious disease transmission from domesticated animals and biotoxins (Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by an infection from a parasite that reproduces in cats. It has been known to have killed at least 8 Hawaiian Monk Seals in recent years.)