Meet The Hawaiian Monk Seal, “The Dog Which Runs Through Rough Water”
Occasionally on our charters we are lucky enough to encounter the rarest marine mammal in the state, the Hawaiian monk seal (Neomonachus schauinslandi). Their Hawaiian name, ‘llio holo I ka uaua, translates to “the dog which runs through rough water”. Try and say that three times fast!
With only about 1400 individuals left, Hawaiian monk seals are the most endangered pinniped in the United States. Pinnipeds include all seals, sea lions, fur seals, and walrus. Of those 1400 seals, only roughly 300 live in the eight main Hawaiin Islands. The majority live in the remote Northwest Hawaiian Islands. These lesser known islands are crucial breeding grounds for many endangered Hawaiian birds, sea turtles, and other wildlife. As a result they were given national monument status in 2006, and named the Papahānuamokuākea Marine National Monument. Almost hunted to extinction in the late 19th century, the population now grows about 3% each year. Although they are no longer hunted they are still threatened by frequent entanglement in commercial fishing gear and habitat loss.
Hawaiian monk seals are quite large, reaching 7.5 feet in length and weighing up to 450 pounds. They are described as opportunistic feeders, preying on a variety of marine life including; small fish, octopus, squid, and crustaceans. In their hunt for prey monks seals are capable of holding their breath for more than 20 minutes and can dive to over 1000 feet!
Spending almost their entire life at sea, monk seals only come to shore to rest and give birth. They are sometimes seen laying on beaches for days, even our seals like to bathe in the Hawaiian sun! After a 10-11 month pregnancy, females will “haul out” on shore and give birth to a single pup. The pup will nurse for a month and during this time mom stays right by its side without even leaving to forage for food. After this short nursing period the pup is left to learn to hunt for food and swim on its own.
If we are lucky enough to encounter a monk seal on a charter, or any of Hawaii’s other marine mammals, you will learn even more about them from our knowledgeable marine naturalist!
Sources; NOAA Fisheries, The Marine Mammal Center, National Marine Sanctuaries Foundation
Written By Crew & Naturalist Jenna Wedekind