Hawaiian monk seals

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The Hawaiian monk seal is so named as the folds of its skin somewhat resemble a monk's cowl, and because it is usually seen alone or in small groups. They live in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands which are either uninhabited or little-used by humans. The large number of coral reefs which surround the islands serve as great foraging grounds for skilled seals to swim and dive for fish, spiny lobsters, octopuses, and eels.


Why should I be aware of this?

  • The Hawaiian monk seal was listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act as early as 1976. The species is also on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN’s) Red List of Threatened Species, and trade in the species or its parts is banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
  • According to statistics from the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, beach counts of populations of Hawaiian monk seals declined by some 60 percent between 1958 and 1996. Today only 1,300-1,400 of the animals exist in the wild, and their populations have declined about four percent annually in recent years.[1]

All about Hawaiian monk seals

Monk seals spend most of their time at sea, but come ashore to rest on beaches and even utilize fringe vegetation as shelter from storms.

Most endangered seal

With are only about 1,200 left, the Hawaiian monk seal is considered the most endangered seal in U.S. waters. The most endangered seal in the world is another species of monk seal, the Mediterranean monk seal, with only about 600 of them left in the Mediterranean. The Caribbean monk seal,a third species of monk seal, is now extinct.

According to research reports, the decline in the Hawaiian monk seal population is due to lack of survival of these seals at one of the most important breeding beaches at French Frigate Shoals. They often get tangled in fishermen’s nets and other trash in the oceans. It has been suggested that the fish that seals eat have been reduced by fishermen and by changes in weather patterns like the El Niño event.

Another cause of reduced population is that during the mating season, aggressive males attack females until they are badly injured or eventually killed. This behavior is known as mobbing, and was identified as a primary cause of mortality in some breeding populations of monk seals.

Juveniles starving to death

Another major concern area is that juvenile Hawaiian monk seals are not making it to adulthood. Many are starving to death possibly as Hawaiian monk seals travel more than 100 miles and dive to 1500 feet to feed. The younger animals are unable to go as far or dive as deep to find typical prey such as octopus, crustaceans and bottom fish.

Climate change and development

Climate change and rising water levels have reduced the size of some of those beaches which are traditional Hawaiian monk seal resting grounds between foraging bouts. As the seals attempt to return to the more populated islands, development is also causing problems. People and pets, especially dogs, disturb resting monk seals and have the potential to spread disease.


  • Hawaiian monk seals are able to stay at sea for as long as a month
  • They are able to dive 600 feet
  • These seals can hold their breath for 20 minutes
  • Their diet is fish, octopus, eels and lobsters
  • Adults have gray or brown fur, and babies are black.
  • They grow up to seven feet long and weigh between 400 and 600 pounds.
  • They can live as long as 30 years.

90 degrees

Hawaiian monk seals are one of the few mammals known to science to have evolved very little from their ancestral beginnings some 15 million years ago. In a sense, the monk seals are living fossils, and provide scientists with a window in days long gone by.[1]


  • Hawaiian Monk Seal Profile
  • Will National Monument Status Save the Hawaiian Monk Seals?
  • Hawaiian monk seals


  1. 1.0 1.1 Scientific American