A Shout-Out To The Hawaiian Monk Seal

Meet Hawaii’s Official State Mammal. The lovable, laid back, Hawaiian Monk Seal has been a part of Hawaiian folklore and story telling for generations. Today, tourists and locals are lucky to catch a glimpse at what has become an increasingly elusive part of the Hawaii's biosphere.

Researchers say the Monk Seal came to the Hawaiian islands some 14 million years ago and adapted well to archipelago life in the tropics as an apex predator. In recent years however, the Monk Seal has been shown to be particularly sensitive to environmental shifts brought on by the introduction of humans and their pets. Now less than 1100 total Monk Seals remain from what was once a thriving species.

In this post we’ll learn more about the Hawaiian Monk Seal, including some of the things that are making life tough for them. We’ll also share four easy things you can do to help keep these most cutest of mammals alive and well for many years to come. Let’s start by getting to know the Monk Seal.

likes seafood, sunsets, and sandy beaches


The adorable Hawaiian Monk Seal eats fish, octopus, squid, and lobster. A day in the life of a Monk Seal will typically involve resting, molting, mating, and rearing young in or around shallow lagoons, open oceans, and sandy beaches.

Monk Seal bodies have not evolved any unique adaptations for dealing with the hot tropical climates they live in, rather, they spend their days avoiding the sun in wet sand and shade, and leave most of their physical activity to the cooler times of day.

About hauling. Anyone doing research into Monk Seal lifestyles is bound to stumble on countless references to one of the Monk Seal’s favorite pastimes, hauling or hauling out. No, they won’t help you move your couch. The practice of hauling out refers to getting out of the water to loaf (and do other things) on dry land. Monk Seals are expert haulers, which can often leave them open to being approached and disturbed by human visitors.

So seafood, sunsets, and sandy beaches. Sounds like the Monk Seal has a pretty great life, right? Well, almost.

According to estimates from the Monk Seal Foundation over 90% of the remaining population could be gone in less than 50 years. They say that recent changes in Monk Seal habitats have triggered a decline in the population and unless steps are taken to intervene we could lose our friends to extinction.

Running In Rough Water

The Hawaiian name for Monk Seal is ‘llio-holo-i-ka-uaua’, which affectionately means, “dog that runs in rough water.” Today, the Hawaiian Monk Seal is one of the two remaining Monk Seal species; the other is the Mediterranean Monk Seal and both are critically endangered. Until recently there were three species but sadly the Caribbean Monk Seal was officially declared extinct in 2008.

Monk seals are the only endangered marine mammals in the northwest Hawaiian Islands. According to biologist, Frank Parish, “adult monks today seem healthy, yet 8 out of 10 pups are dying before the age of two”.

The reasons for decline in Monk Seal populations are complex, but, we know that humans have a lot to do with it.

Reasons For Decline

Reports estimate that the remaining Monk Seal population is going away at the rate of 4.5% every year. Right now, the biggest threats to Monk Seals are accidental entanglement, disease promoted by environmental toxins or water pollution, and issues related to climate change.

Suzanne Canja, a Monk Seal biologist studying the reasons behind the species decline, says one big problem for the seals is accidental entanglement. In recent years she has documented over 150 accounts of seals getting tangled in fishing line and nets. Accidental entanglements are an unfortunate side effect of industrial fishing taking place in the habitats where Monks Seals live.

Another problem the Monk Seal faces is increasing water pollution. Currently industrial chemicals, including pesticides and herbicides, are being studied as likely threats to endangered seal populations. Whether it’s household chemicals or excess farming chemicals used in conventional agriculture, increasingly, we see new toxins entering the oceans where Monks Seals live which can negatively impact their health and wellbeing.

A third longer term issue for Monks Seals has to do with global warming. Sandy beaches are an important part of the Monk Seal habitat. The threat of sea level rising due to global climate change would reduce or even eliminate the available Hawaiian beaches on which the seals depend. As oceans warm, these beaches become less and less available to new Monk Seals, which makes it hard for them to survive.

Four Ways You Can Help


Stop Global Warming
This can be done by driving less or driving more fuel efficient vehicles. Vehicles account for about 13% of all human-created green house gas emissions—however, 51% are created from animal meat production. One way to seriously cut back on your greenhouse emissions footprint is by eating less animal products or by going vegan! For more on this check out the film documentary Cowspiracy and see how meat production and global warming are connected.

Buy Organic
When you buy organic, you support a kind of farming that avoids using herbicides and pesticides, which can run off farmland into ground water, streams, and eventually ocean habitats. Organic food is also grown without using synthetic fertilizers, such as nitrogen. Excess synthetic nitrogen used in conventional farming also runs off into Monk Seal habitats, which can cause algae blooms and can eventually cause ocean dead zones.

Keeping Distance
In recent years Monk Seals have become a spectator attraction for Hawaiian tourists and locals, alike. Tragically, the seals have not evolved any natural fear of humans, which makes approaching them very easy. If you see a Monk Seal, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Foundation urges you to stay at least 150 feet away. Monk Seals are disturbed easily. Hauling out on the beach provides them with a much needed sanctuary from yet another danger, sharks! And, if you bring a pet such as a dog, to the beach make sure it’s properly restrained and does not assault the resting Monk Seals.

Support These Orgs
These organizations have great information on Monk Seals and work hard to educate people about Monk Seals and their preservation. They can always use more support! Visit them online and learn more:

• Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program
• Save Our Hawaiian Monk Seal
• Monk Seal Foundation

Stay Positive!

If you love Monk Seals follow the tips you’ve learned and have hope; it’s not too late to preserve Hawaiian Monk Seal populations! In 2008, Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii James Aiona declared the Hawaiian Monk Seal as Hawaii’s official state mammal.

Chris Whidden