Hawaiian Monk Seal
Monachus schauinslandi

 
 
 
  1 |  2  
 
 

What Are They Like?

Hawaiian monk seal is considered the most rarest and endangered seal in U.S. waters. They reach lengths of about 6.9-7.9 feet (2.1-2.4 meters) and weigh 374.8-529.1 pounds (170-240 kilograms). Hawaiian monk seals are silvery grey with cream colored chest, throat, and underside regions.  Their coats eventually turn brown on top and yellow underneath, and become blacker with age.

Where Do They Live?

Hawaiian monk seals live in the Pacific Ocean and are native to the United States. Their common sites are their reproductive grounds in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands of Kure Atoll, Midway Atoll, Pearl and Hermes Reef, Lisianski Island, Laysan Island and French Frigate Shoals. Hawaiian monk seals live in both marine and terrestrial habitats including reefs for feeding, open beaches for basking and delivering young, and coves for resting. They also spend much of their time covered in damp sand at the water’s edge to avoid overheating.

 
Did You Know?
Scientists call Hawaiian monk seals “living fossils” because their anatomy, behavior, and physiology are only slightly different from seals that lived 14-16 million years ago.

How Are Babies Made?

Hawaiian monk seals reproduce annually between the months of March to June. The gestation period is approximately 335 days; mothers give birth to typically one pup, in a cave or on the beach. After birth, the mother must live off stored fat because she and her young are always together. During mating season, males become increasingly aggressive and outnumber females three to one; therefore, multiple males can bombard a female and seriously injure or even kill her.

What Do They Eat?

Hawaiian monk seals feed on reef-dwelling fish or invertebrates, including flatfish, squids, eels, octopuses, and spiny lobsters. They can swim as deep as 10-40 meters (32.8-131.2 feet) along the slopes of coral reefs.

 
Did You Know?
Hawaiians refer to the seal as `Ilio holo I ka uaua, which means, "dog that runs in rough water."

What Do They Do?

Hawaiian monk seals are not a migratory species, and therefore spend most of their time in a limited range. They are solitary except during breeding season and during the first part of a pup’s life. Females with pups are especially sensitive to disturbances and may become aggressive if threatened. Aggressive interactions among females often lead to the young switching mothers. Hawaiian monk seals are a nocturnal species, resting during the day and diving for food at night.

How Concerned Should We Be?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has a “Red List” of species in global endangerment and listed the Hawaiian Monk Seal as “critically endangered.” Their wild population is disjointed and slowly declining with only an estimated 1,200 seals left. The major threats to the Hawaiian monk seal include habitat loss, competition with fisheries, limitation of food due to changes in oceanic conditions, and global warming, which contributes to habitat loss through sea-level rise and changing water temperatures that cause animals to relocate. Additional risks include commercial harvesting, disease and spills.

What's Being Done?

Hawaiian Monk Seals are listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, protected under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act, and are listed on the U.S. Federal List as endangered and on CITES Appendix I. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands State Marine Refuge, the Kure Atoll State Wildlife Refuge, the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve and the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument are working together to protect the Hawaiian monk seal’s habitat from human interruption.

On November 27, 2007, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Plan was initiated in addition to the protection provided by the refuges. It initiated a Captive Care Project that addresses the risks to young Hawaiian monk seals. The young seals are captured and kept at Midway Atoll so shark attacks and entangling debris cannot harm them, and a constant food supply is ensured. Once grown, the Hawaiian monk seals are released back into the wild.

 

Monk Seal Mystery - Northwest Hawaiian Islands

Hawaiian Monk Seal Experience

The Hawaiian Monk Seal

Popular Animals

Have a great animal video we should know about? Want to contribute content to Jeff Corwin Connect Email us here