FACT OF THE WEEK: Hawaii’s State Mammal is Critically Endangered
MORE ON THIS: To native Hawaiians, this furry creature may be referred to as ‘llioholoikauaua, but you personally know them as Hawaiian monk seals. These monk seals are endemic, meaning they are only found in Hawai‘i. They are one of the most endangered animals in the world, with their population of about 1,100 still declining.
These marine mammals are semiaquatic, spending most of their time at sea and some of their time on land. “Hauling out” is a process where the seal goes onto the beaches to sleep, nurse, molt and rest. Here, a mother will nurse her pup for about 6 weeks and then the roughly 200-pound pup will have to fend for itself. An adult will grow from 6 to 7.5 feet in length and will weight between 375 to 600 pounds. They are generalist feeders, feeding on what is readily available, such as squid, eel, octopi, fish, and crustaceans.
There are many dangers that threaten the life of a monk seal. Food limitations, marine debris entanglement, falling victim to bycatch, mother-pup disturbances and illegal sealing (killing) are some of the anthropogenic, or human-caused, threats to these mammals. Disease outbreaks, predators and low genetic diversity are some of the natural threats that can harm them. However, overfishing, littering, utilizing harmful fishery equipment, and harassing or killing seals are all very crucial things that humans can cease doing to promote population growth. Natural disturbances may not be able to be avoided, but humans can learn to live in harmony with these animals.
What we can do to help is:
- give the seals lots of space when hauled out or in the water
- follow fishing guidelines and restrictions
- pick up litter
- report stranded or entangled seals to the NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Hotline at 1-888-256-9840
- report harassment to NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement at 1-888-853-1964
- report ALL sightings of monk seals on Maui to (808) 292-2372
Many foundations around the island may also have volunteer opportunities for the public. Educating the public around hauled out seals and helping with population counts can benefit them immensely. Even you can help the monk seal!
- Hawai‘i Wildlife Watching Guide: Hawaiian Monk Seal. Pacific Whale Foundation. 2010. https://fh-sites.imgix.net/sites/759/2017/12/01181717/Monk-Seal-Guide.pdf
- Protected Resources Division. NOAA. 2010. http://www.fpir.noaa.gov/PRD/prd_hms_population_threats.html
- Hawaiian Monk Seal. National Geographic. n.d. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/hawaiian-monk-seal
- Who’s Killing Hawaii’s Monk Seals? Huffington Post. 2013. Nathan Eagle & Sophie Cook. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/06/killing-monk-seals_n_4399723.html
Written by Melissa Freese