Say Aloha to the Hawaiian Monk Seal!
by Lydia Weltman
You know how a lot of senior citizens seem to move to Florida, where it’s warm? That’s what these seals did, only they moved to Hawaii. They are one of the only seals to live in the tropics, making their home in the mostly uninhabited islands on the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Spotting them in the water isn’t terribly difficult; they grow to over seven feet, and they can weigh anywhere from 500 to 600 pounds. Their name, “Monk Seal,” comes from the folds of skin around their neck that resembles a monk’s cowl. They are also considered to be “Living Fossils” since their breed split from other seals 15 million years ago. Another breed of monk seals lives in the Mediterranean, and a breed used to live in the Caribbean. The Caribbean Monk seal was declared extinct in 2008, but there has been no confirmed sighting of one since 1952.
Who doesn’t want to live in Hawaii? It’s warm, the water is great, and the coral reefs provide a delicious feast every day. The seals forage among the coral for fish, spiny lobsters, and octopuses. Sometimes, if a seal is feeling particularly picky that day, they might dive a little deeper to try and catch an eel.
Monk seals also enjoy hauling out on the beaches and the corals of Hawaii. Hauling out is when the seals take a break from hunting and lay out in the sun. The seals don’t have designated places where they haul out; it seems to be wherever they find themselves when they feel like taking a break.
The Life of a Seal
When the pups are born, they are black from head to tail. Some may even have light patches throughout their fur or red and green tinged coloration from attached algae. By the time pups are done nursing, they have molted their black skin and traded it in for silvery-gray fur on their backs and a lighter, creamier underbelly.
The nursing period of a new pup is about a month. During this time, the mothers do not leave the pup’s side. These mothers are so dedicated to their children they don’t even eat in this time, losing hundreds of pounds.
The pups go through life, reaching maturity when they are about five. Their natural lifespan is about twenty-five to thirty years.
Not so safe
In an ideal world, every Hawaiian Monk Seal would live to be an old grandpa seal. Unfortunately, this is not the case. There are only about 1,300-1,400 seals left in the wild, and these numbers have dropped more than 10% every year since 1989.
Some of the reasons behind their decline are things out of our control, such as the male aggression towards females and the low genetic diversity their species has. Their food is also limited, since they are only found in one geographical area. Other reasons behind their decline are human-based, such as overfishing and getting trapped in marine debris.
These same reasons led to the extinction of the Caribbean Monk Seal, and if efforts are not made to preserve them, the Hawaiian Monk Seal will meet the same fate. It would be a shame to see another species go extinct when there are ways humans can help.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Fisheries (NOAA Fisheries) website lists some of the ways that people are trying to recover the population. More research has been done on the habits and behaviors of the seals to help make better decisions in regards to them. Education programs have also been started to explain to people how to avoid giving undue stress to the creatures, such as not disturbing them when they are hauling out and leaving mothers and their newborn pups alone. Another great way to help that anyone can do is to reduce pollution. This simple act helps not only the monk seals but also every marine species swimming out there.
There are so many fascinating and adorable creatures swimming out in those oceans. A lot of them will not survive without our help, and the extinction of one creature could lead to the destruction of another. This isn’t something anyone wants to see happen, so the only option left is to help them.
And come on, who doesn’t want to save this adorable face?
NOAA Fisheries Website:
Other information found at National Geographic: