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Hawaiian Monk Seal
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Phocidae
Genus: Monachus
Species: M. schauinslandi
Binomial name
Monachus schauinslandi
Matschie, 1905

The Hawaiian monk seal, Monachus schauinslandi, is an endangered earless seal that is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands[2].

Known to the native Hawaiians as ʻIlio-holo-i-ka-uaua, or "dog that runs in rough waters," it received its scientific name Monachus schauinslandi when Dr. H. Schauinsland discovered the first skull known to science on Laysan Island. 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 it lives a solitary existence relative to other species that 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 weathers to a brown shade. Juvenile Hawaiian monk seals are silver with creamy white stomachs, chests, and throats. Pups are black and woolly with fuzzy short hair. Newborns are clad in a black natal fur. A number of Hawaiian monk seals sport scars from shark attacks or injuries from fishing gear. Females are often scarred by encounters with males, which can be particularly brutal during mating. Adult males are 300 to 400 pounds (140 to 180 kg) in weight and 7 feet (2.1 m) in length while adult females tend to be 400 to 600 pounds (180 to 270 kg) pounds and 8 feet (2.4 m) feet in length. Pups average 30 to 40 pounds (14 to 18 kg) at birth and 40 inches (1.0 m) in length. Life expectancies are 25 to 30 years.

Endangered status

The Hawaiian monk seal is among the most endangered of all seal species, 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.[3] The population of Hawaiian monk seals is in decline. In 2008, it was estimated that only 1,200 individuals remain. It is listed as critically endangered.[4] 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.[5]


Photo of seal on the beach, looking directly at the photographer
Hauled-out seal
Underwater photo of seal in profile with open eye and an apparent smile
Hawaiian monk seal

Seal populations have declined rapidly 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 meat, oil and skin.[6] U.S. forces hunted them during World War II while occupying Laysan Island and Midway.[6]

Predation by sharks such as the tiger shark, 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 have killed many animals. In the northwestern Hawaiian islands, starvation is a serious problem. Lobsters, the seals' preferred food other than fish, have been overfished and competition from other apex predators such as sharks, jacks, and barracudas, leaves little left over for developing pups. The creation of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument enclosing these islands may lead to more abundant food supplies.

In areas where male seals outnumber females, several males may compete for a single female, known as mobbing, often accidentally killing the female. Females of any age including pups can become targets.[7]

These threats have taken a toll on the species. It has been nearly eradicated from the main Hawaiian Islands. The population there is approximately 150.[8] It is currently found on Laysan, Midway, Pearl and Hermes Atoll, French Frigate Shoals, and Lisianski.[8]

In the summer of 2009, two monk seals were shot and killed.[9] Slowly, however, the monk seals are returning to the main Hawaiian Islands. Lone seals have been sighted in surf breaks and on beaches in Kauaʻi, Niʻihau, Maui, and O'ahu's Turtle Bay[10] and some of the other islands. They often leave the water haul out on busy tourist beaches, where they are vulnerable to disturbance. NOAA has cultivated a network of volunteers who protect the seals while they bask or bear and nurse their young. In 2006, twelve pups were born in the main Hawaiian Islands, rising to thirteen in 2007, and eighteen in 2008. As of 2008 43 total pups have been counted in the main Hawaiian islands.[11]

NOAA is funding considerable research on seal population dynamics and health in conjunction with the Marine Mammal Center.


  1. ^ Lowry, L. & Aguilar, A. (2008). Monachus schauinslandi. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 28 January 2009. Listed as Critically Endangered (CR A3ce+4ce)
  2. ^ Hawaiian Monk Seal, Monachus schauinslandi
  3. ^ - Feds: Caribbean Monk Seal Officially Extinct - Science News | Science & Technology | Technology News
  4. ^ The Captive Care and Release Research Project Seeks to Aid Recovery of the Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal
  5. ^ KHNL NBC 8 Honolulu Hawaii |Hawaiian monk seal is the new state mammal
  6. ^ a b Ellis, Richard (2004). No Turning Back: The Life and Death of Animal Species. New York: Harper Perennial. pp. 194. ISBN 0-06-055804-0. 
  7. ^ Hawaiian Monk Seals
  8. ^ a b Ellis, Richard (2004). No Turning Back: The Life and Death of Animal Species. New York: Harper Perennial. pp. 195. ISBN 0-06-055804-0. 
  9. ^ Federal officials probe deliberate killing of seal. The Maui News. Posted December 19, 2009
  10. ^ Campaign to Protect Turtle Bay (HI)
  11. ^ "Rough Water Pups"

External links



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