Hawaiian Monk Seal

Hawaiian Monk Seal

name = Hawaiian Monk Seal
status = EN
trend = unknown
status_system = iucn2.3

image_width = 250px
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Chordata
classis = Mammalia
ordo = Carnivora
familia = Phocidae
genus = "Monachus"
species = "M. schauinslandi"
binomial = "Monachus schauinslandi"
binomial_authority = Matschie, 1905

The Hawaiian monk seal, "Monachus schauinslandi", is an endangered earless seal that is endemic to the waters off of the Hawaiian Islands [ [http://www.monachus-guardian.org/factfiles/hawai01.htm Hawaiian Monk Seal, Monachus schauinslandi ] ] . Known to the native Hawaiians as `Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua, or "dog that runs in rough waters," it received its scientific name "Monachus schauinslandi" when the first skull known to science was brought back from Laysan Island by Dr. H. Schauinsland. Its common name derives from its round head covered with short hairs, giving it the appearance of a medieval friar. The name may also reflect the fact that the Hawaiian monk seal lives a more solitary existence, in comparison with other seals that in places collect in large colonies. Hawaiian monk seals are the most primitive living members of the Family Phocidae, having separated from other true seals perhaps 15 million years ago.


Mature Hawaiian monk seals feature a gray pelage, or coat, which turns brown with weathering. Young Hawaiian monk seals are silver with creamy white stomachs, chests, and throats. Pups are black and woolly with fuzzy short hair. Newborn pups are clad in a black natal fur. A number of Hawaiian monk seals sport scars from attempted shark attacks or injuries from fishing gear. Females are often scarred by encounters with males, which can be particularly brutal during the mating season. Adult males are 300 to 400 pounds in weight and at 7 feet in length while adult females tend to be 400 to 600 pounds and at 8 feet in length. Pups average at 30 to 40 pounds at birth and at 40 inches in length. Life expectancies are from 25 to 30 years.


Hawaiian monk seals are found in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) and occasionally seen around the major islands. On very rare occasion, a Hawaiian monk seal can be seen hauling-out, or resting, on beaches in the populated Hawaiian Islands. Regular sightings have occurred at Ho'okipa on Maui and Poipu on Kaua'i. The largest population (some 1,500 animals in 2002) occurs at French Frigate Shoals.

Hawaiian monk seals come ashore on sandy beaches for rest and recuperation, and perhaps to escape sharks in the NWHI. Respiration on land is controlled by long periods of breath-holding. Monk seals are solitary, both in the water and onshore. When loose groups form on beaches, they gather because the local environment conditions are favorable. Except for mothers with pups, resting seals avoid bodily contact with each other.

Hawaiian monk seals feed on spiny lobster, eels, flatfish, scorpenids, larval fishes, and octopus. [http://www.natureserve.org/explorer] Monk seals may eat as much as ten percent of their body weight in a day. They sometimes spend days at sea before returning to the islands where they sleep and digest their food.

Adult seals are capable of diving to astounding depths. University of Hawaii researchers recently recorded a Hawaiian monk seal swimming comfortably at 1,781 feet below the surface. [ [http://youtube.com/watch?v=ZE47SemUDHE YouTube - Northwestern Hawaiian Islands 2003: Monk Seal at 1781 feet ] ] Previous records had shown seals diving to a maximum of 1,000 feet.

Endangered Status

Hawaiian monk seals are among the most endangered species of all seals, although its cousin species the Mediterranean Monk Seal ("M. monachus") is even rarer, and the Caribbean Monk Seal ("M. tropicalis"), last sighted the 1950s, was officially declared extinct in June 2008. [ [http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,364241,00.html FOXNews.com - Feds: Caribbean Monk Seal Officially Extinct - Science News | Science & Technology | Technology News ] ] The population of Hawaiian monk seals continues to decline and, in 2008, it is estimated that only 1,200 individuals remain. [ [http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/psd/captivecareproject.php The Captive Care and Release Research Project Seeks to Aid Recovery of the Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal] ] The Hawaiian monk seal was officially designated as an endangered species on November 23, 1976 and is now protected by the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It is illegal to kill, capture or harass a Hawaiian monk seal.

To raise awareness for the species' plight, the Hawaiian monk seal was declared Hawaii's official State Mammal on June 11, 2008 by Lieutenant Governor James Aiona. [ [http://www.khnl.com/Global/story.asp?S=8483697 KHNL NBC 8 Honolulu Hawaii |Hawaiian monk seal is the new state mammal ] ]


Monk seal species have shown alarming population declines in recent years due to the rapid spread of human activity to even the most remote and isolated areas in the Hawaiian Islands. In the nineteenth century, Hawaiian Monk Seals were clubbed to death by whalers and sealers for their meat, oil and their skin. cite book| last = Ellis| first = Richard| authorlink = Richard Ellis (biologist) | title = No Turning Back: The Life and Death of Animal Species| publisher = Harper Perennial | date = 2004| location = New York| pages = 194| isbn =0-06-055804-0 ] They were also hunted during World War II when the US forces occupied Laysan Island and Midway.

Death from predation by sharks, reduced pup survival as the result of human disturbances, ciguatera poisoning, high male to female ratios during the breeding season, and entanglement in fishing nets and debris all have led to the species' decline. These threats have taken a toll on the species, as it has been nearly eradicated from part of its former range, including Oahu, Kaua'i, and Hawaii. cite book| last = Ellis| first = Richard| authorlink = Richard Ellis (biologist) | title = No Turning Back: The Life and Death of Animal Species| publisher = Harper Perennial | date = 2004| location = New York| pages = 195| isbn =0-06-055804-0 ] It is currently found on Laysan, Midway, Pearl and Hermes Atoll, French Frigate Shoals, and Lisianski.

In areas where male seals outnumber females, several males may take an interest in a single female, often resulting in the death of the female. Females of any age can be fair game, including pups. This is known as "mobbing," and is considered a factor in the decline of seal populations. [ [http://www.earthtrust.org/wlcurric/seals.html Hawaiian Monk Seals ] ]

Considerable current research is being conducted on this species, including research conducted by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in conjunction with the Marine Mammal Center. These efforts are directed at the enhancement of population as well as health issues of this species.

ee also

*Mediterranean Monk Seal
*Caribbean Monk Seal


Further reading

* Listed as Endangered (EN C2a v2.3)

External links

* [http://www.monachus-guardian.org The Monachus Guardian]
* [http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/psd/captivecareproject.php#monkseal NOAA Midway Island Captive Care & Release Project]
* [http://www.kauaimonkseal.com/ Kauai Monk Seal Watch website]
* [http://www.nokaoimagazine.com/Features/8_2/Watching_Out_for_Makana.html "Watching Out for Makana" feature about Hawaiian monk seals on Maui by Hannah Bernard, "Maui No Ka 'Oi Magazine," Vol.8 No.2 (July 2004).]

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