Seeing a Hawaiian Monk seal while snorkeling or diving around Maui is a rare treat. Friendly and curious, observing these furry, puppy-faced creatures is a delight. But just how rare was this encounter? With an estimated population of 1,200, the Hawaiian monk seal is one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world, and the rarest seal in U.S. waters.
Found nowhere else
Around the main Hawaiian Islands, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates there are only 153 monk seals in the entire island chain. You are very lucky to see them, swimming in near shore waters, or sunning on a beach. The remainder of the population live in six main breeding areas in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands at Kure Atoll, Midway Islands, Pearl and Hermes Reef, Lisianski Island, Laysan Island and French Frigate Shoals. The monk seal is endemic to Hawaii- they are found no where else in the world.
Monk seals also hold a special place in Hawaiian culture. Ancient Hawaiians called the monk seal ‘Ilio holo I ka uaua (dog that runs in rough water). The monk seal’s common name is derived from its folds of skin that look like a monk’s hood, and because it spends most of its time alone or in very small groups. Young seals are called pups, are jet black and range from 25 pounds at birth up to 200 pounds at six weeks. Adults can weigh up to 500 pounds and range in color from dark brown to silvery grey with a light underbelly. They can live up to 30 years.
An endangered species
The Hawaiian monk seal was officially designated as an endangered species on November 23, 1976. However, the species was still illegally killed, often by subsistence fishermen who complained the seals broke nets and stole fish. Legislators stepped in, ensuring monk seals further protections.
Under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act it is illegal to kill, capture, or harass a Hawaiian monk seal. If a monk seal is spotted on the beach, officials will secure the area. Report all Sightings to 808-220-7802 or email PIFSC.firstname.lastname@example.org
Give them some space
Though a curious Hawaiian monk seal may approach you in the water, it’s a good idea to give them their space. Mother seals can be extremely protective of their pups. There have also been incidents of Hawaiian monk seals being too friendly. The risk for divers is being pushed into deeper water than they had intended.
See the most of marine life
The best way to see the most diverse Hawaii marine life is to go on snorkeling tour or scuba dive boat trip. On Maui, you can do a discover scuba dive trip without being certified. Learn more here.