10 Things to Know About Hawaiian Monk Seals

by 4ocean Team January 09, 2019

10 Things to Know About Hawaiian Monk Seals


The warm waters of Hawai'i are known for their amazing coral reefs, an incredible amount of tropical fish species, and awesome surf. But did you know that that there is a species of warm water seal that calls the area home as well? Seals are most notably associated with cold water environments, however, the Hawaiian monk seal is an endangered pinniped species that call this tropical region home. Instead of icebergs, these seals prefer to lounge around on sandy beaches soaking up the sun.

This species has been in existence for more than 15 million years but it is now in trouble with only an estimated 1,100 to 1,400 individuals left. There is a multitude of reasons that the population is declining, many of them being man-made, including things like ocean plastic, entanglement in marine debris, harassment, and even gunshots. When animals are injured and can be captured, they are taken to The Marine Mammal Center Hawaiian monk seal hospital at Ke Kai Ola. Our 4ocean Hawaiian Monk Seal Bracelet helps to fund the rehabilitation and eventual release of these injured individuals. 

Here are some other interesting facts about the Hawaiian monk seal:

1. They are the official state animal of Hawai'i.

2. The Hawaiian name "ilio-holo-l-ka-uaua" means "dog runningin rough water."

3. In Hawai'i, it is a felony to harm a Hawaiian monk seal and onlookers are encouraged to stay at least 50' away from any of the animals.

4. There are two main populations, one in the Main Hawaiian Islands and one in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (Kure Atoll, Midway Islands, Pearl/Hermes Reef, Lisianski Island Laysan Island and French Frigate Shoals). 

5. Mating season is generally between June and August and usually, the mother gives birth to just one individual. 

6. The gestation period for pups is about the same as humans, 9 months, and they are usually around 3 feet in length when they are born. They stay with their mother for the first 35 to 40 days in order to nurse. After that, they are on their own.

7. Adults can live to be 25 or 30 years old, grow to 7 or 8 feet in length, and weight between 300 and 600 pounds. 

8. Hunting for food is mainly a nighttime activity with their main quarry being fish, squid, octopus, and lobster.

9. Hawaiian monk seals do not have external ears.

10. They were officially declared as an endangered species in November 1976. 


Hawaiian monk seal at Ke Kai Ola in RecoveryNOAA Permit #18786

Hawaiian monk seal in recovery at Ke Kai Ola waiting for release. 


Release of Hawaiian Monk Seal NOAA Permit #18786

A Hawaiian monk seal is transported ready for release. 


Helicopter Ride to Hawaiian Monk Seal Release NOAA Permit #18786

It takes a helicopter to get this Hawaiian monk seal back to its home in the NW Hawaiian Islands. 


Hawaiian monk seal with radio tracking collar after release NOAA Permit #18786

The Hawaiian monk seals are fitted with a radio collar for tracking after release. 


At 4ocean, we are on a mission to clean the ocean and coastlines, one pound at a time. In doing so, we are removing trash that could end up in Hawaiian monk seal habitats causing them harm. The dedicated folks at The Marine Mammal Center Hawaiian monk seal hospital, Ke Kai Ola, are making a difference every day as well for these amazing creatures. If you are ever in Kailua Kona, make sure to stop by and see some of their patients and pay tribute to the incredible work they do. 


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