The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the rarest marine mammals in the world. Endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, less than 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals remain. The Hawaiian name ‘ilioholoikauaua means “dog that runs in rough seas.”
Although Hawaiian monk seals spend most of their time at sea, it’s common to see Hawaiian monk seals hauled-out on sandy shorelines during the day, especially while molting. They prefer sandy, protected beaches when pupping.
Adults are silvery-dark grey with a lighter underside and newborns are black in coloration. Females typically have a gestation period of about 10-11 months, typically giving birth late March and early April. A female will care for her pup for roughly 4-6 weeks during which the mother fasts and remains on land. After this period, the mother abandons her pup and returns to sea. They feed on fish, cephalopods, and crustaceans. Hawaiian monk seals typically hunt in water less than 200 feet in depth, while some have been known to forage in water of more than 1,000 feet.
In the 19th century, this species of monk seal was hunted down to the brink of extinction. Now critically endangered, this species still faces many threats resulting in a decline of species. Most of the population is found in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI), but a sub-population has resided in the Main Hawaiian Islands. Some threats include food limitation in NWHI, entanglement in marine debris, human interaction which includes by-catch in fishing gear, exposure to disease, habitat loss, and male aggression towards females.
Many conservation efforts have been implemented in hopes of protecting this critically endangered species. Through research and education, we can become better aware and help reduce negative monk seal-human interactions on the Main Hawaiian Islands.
Maui Ocean Center is respectfully in compliance with a County of Maui ordinance prohibiting the exhibit of cetaceans (marine mammals including whales and dolphins). Learn about these animals through interpretive displays in the Marine Mammal Discovery Center, naturalist presentations and volunteers of organizations from the Maui community.