The monk seal, known in Hawaiian as “llio holo I ka uaua” translates to “dog that runs in rough water.” It is only one of two mammals native to the Hawaiian Islands, with the other being a hoary bat. They are an important “living fossil” because their physiology is virtually unchanged, despite the passing of 13 million years. This is eight million years before Kauai was even an island! See the historical timeline here.
Unfortunately, there are only about 1,100 seals left and the population is currently declining. A majority of the population is found in the northern Hawaiian Islands. The main Hawaiian Islands (for example: Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Hawaii) only have a minimum population size of 138 as reported by NOAA in 2012. Kauai has an estimated 45 individuals. Flipper tags, transmitters, and natural markings of these seals help in their identification. Examples of seals that have been identified can be found here.
The first hotel we stayed at in Kauai was the Sheraton in the Poipu resort area. Kiahuna Beach is located directly behind the hotel, where we were delighted to see two monk seal sightings. Monk seals typically will haul out on beaches to rest during the day. When you see a roped off area on the beach, you will most likely find a monk seal within its bounds. These signs and ropes are there to protect the seal because they are an endangered species designated through the Endangered Species Act, protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and protected by the state law of Hawaii.
The Marine Mammal Center recently opened an office on the Big Island called Ke Kai Ola to help with the rehabilitation and release of monk seals. Top threats include food limitation, entanglement, shark predation, infectious diseases, habitat loss, fishery interaction, male aggression, and human disturbance. You can help by reporting sightings, learning about monk seals and their habitat, as well as properly disposing trash and recycling.
An award-winning eight minute film below.
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