Did you know that Hawaiian Monk Seals are considered a “living fossil” because of their distinct evolutionary lineage has been isolated from their closest relative 15 million years ago. The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the rarest marine mammals in the world. Part of the “true seal” family (Phocidae), they are one of only two remaining monk seal species. The other is the Mediterranean monk seal. A third monk seal species–the Caribbean monk seal–is extinct.
Monk seals are also known to forage deeper than 1,000 feet (330 m), where they prey on eels and other benthic organisms. Their diet does vary by location, sex, and age. Adults are generally nocturnal hunters while juveniles spend more time hunting species that hide in the sand or under rocks during the day. Monk seals do go hunt for food just outside the immediate shoreline areas in waters of 60-300 feet (18-90 m).
The Hawaiian monk seal does use the sunny sandy beaches of Maui here for resting, mating and taking care of their young. With infant monk pups who cannot yet swim, they need to spend time on shore until they are big and strong enough to enter the ocean.
Monk seals do depend on ocean patterns to support their foraging efforts. In years when these patterns shift northward away from the islands, survival of young seals can decline as the ocean warms.
Today, Hawaiian monk seals are endangered and, although many protection efforts are in place, their numbers are believed to have fallen more than ten percent per year since 1989.
The monk seal is named for its folds of skin that somewhat resemble a monk’s cowl, and because it is usually seen alone or in small groups. Hawaiians call the seal `Ilio holo I ka uaua, which means, “dog that runs in rough water.”
Fun Facts About the Hawaiian Monk Seal:
- The Hawaiian Monk Seal is one of the most endangered species in the world
- They are endemic to the Hawaiian Islands and exist nowhere else in the world
- They have a habitat covers 1,240 miles from the Northwest Hawaiian Islands to the main Hawaiian Islands
- Their Hawaiian name is ‘Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua, which translates to dog running in the rough seas
- Monk Seals are the oldest species of seals on the planet
- The Hawaiian Monk Seal is the official state mammal of Hawaii
- Monk Seals are Protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act
Life Expectancy: 25 – 30 years
Length: 5 – 7 feet
Weight: 400 – 600 pounds (females are slightly larger than males)
Appearance: Gray or brown with colored backs with lighter coloration on their undersides.