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All Creatures,

Episode 148: Aloha Hawaiian Monk Seal

March 17, 2020

The Hawaiian Monk Seal is one of the most endangered pinnipeds on the planet. Living solely in the Hawaiian archipelago, these seals are rare in that they are a tropical seal. Due to human pressures they are classified as Endangered. This week we focus on these adorable sea mammals and bring some hope for the Hawaiian Monk Seal.

 Hawaiian Monk Seal History

The Hawaiian Monk Seal is actually one of the oldest seal species on Earth. Pinnipeds are first thought to have evolved nearly 30 million years ago and monk seals were some of the first species. Scientists debate whether it was a bear-like or otter-like species that first made the move from land to an aquatic existence. Eventually giving rise to seals. What is known is bears and also mustalids are close relatives. Hawaiian Monk Seals are thought to first made it to the Hawaiian Island chain nearly 4 to 11 million years ago.

The scientific name for the Hawaiian Monk Seal is Neomonachus schauinslandi. Their closest relative, the Caribbean Monk Seal went extinct around the 1950s. A less close relative, the Mediterranean Monk Seal, is of a different genus.

 Hawaiian Monk Seal Physiology

Hawaiian Monk Seals weigh between 375-450 pounds (170-205 kg) and are 7-7.5 feet (2.1-2.3 m) in length. Females are slightly larger than males. Not much is known about their behavior, but they can dive as deep as 1800 feet and can hold their breath for 20 minutes. Though the average is around 100 feet. These seals can live up to 30 years, but average only around 15 years in the wild. Their diets vary for what is around the reefs. However, their preference is bony fish, but have been seen eating crustaceans, octopus, eels, and many other marine life.

Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation

The Hawaiian Monk Seal is classified as Endangered by the IUCN. This week we really focus on the conservation of these seals. Plastics continue to pollute our oceans. A recent study published on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch can be read HERE

This particular garbage patch is estimated to be 1.6 million square km. It is estimated there is over 79 thousand tonnes of plastic in this garbage patch. Unfortunately, much of this garbage is washing up on the shores of many of the Hawaiian Islands and is floating in the monk seal’s habitat. These seals in turn eat this plastic, which can end up killing them. With fewer than 1800 animals this is a major threat to the Hawaiian Monk Seal.

Learn more about the Bakail Seal HERE

 

Organizations

Pacific Marine Mammal Center

Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program 

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