Hawaiian monk seals are endemic to Hawaii, meaning they are only found around the Hawaiian Islands – nowhere else in the world. Visitors to Hawaii commonly mistake the Hawaiian Monk Seals for Sea Lions, but they are very different animals. First, let’s discuss the difference between seals and sea lions.
Two main differences:
- Seals do not have ear flaps and sea lions do!
- Seals are very awkward on land because they cannot use their front flippers for support – they look like inchworms coming out of the water. Sea lions are able to use their front flippers to “walk” on land.
Is this seal okay?
Yes! This Hawaiian Monk Seal is a healthy girl! Like I said before, many people visiting Hawaii confuse these seals with sea lions. Sea lions are very social animals and live in big, loud colonies, so if this were actually a sea lion, it would be a concerning sight! However, this is a common sighting of a Hawaiian Monk Seal. Why?
Hawaiian Monk Seals haul out on rocks and beaches to sleep, rest, warm up in the sun, molt, and raise their pups. They spend about one-third of their time on land, sometimes hauling out multiple times a day or only once every few days. Sadie (seen in the photo above) is hauled out for a sunny beach nap!
It is normal to see a Hawaiian Monk Seal alone! They are solitary animals (hence “monk” in their name). For the most part, they spend all of their time alone except for mating. However, sometimes Hawaiian Monk Seals have more social personalities and will try to “hang-out” with other seals and sometimes they will haul out near other seals if it is a particularly nice spot with plentiful food resources.
When to be concerned and what to do
If you see a Hawaiian Monk Seal you should call even if it looks happy and healthy. Hawaiian Monk Seals are endangered animals listed under the Endangered Species Act. Organizations like NOAA and the Hawaii Marine Animal Response (HMAR) do incredible work including educating people about the seals and intervening to help injured or sick seals. Reporting Hawaiian Monk Seal sightings provides valuable data and the opportunity for trained staff and volunteers to assess the health of the seals and provide education to beachgoers sharing the sand with these unique animals!
If you are concerned, look for signs of fishing line near the mouth, neck, or around flippers. Look for any wounds that are fresh or oozing, If the seal is in the water notice if it is acting lethargic and letting the waves push it around – this can be a behavior indicated they don’t feel well. If you see them rolling around on the ground or rubbing their face in the sand they could be trying to get a fishing hook or line unstuck. Remember to keep a safe distance of 50 feet from the seal.
When calling, be prepared to answer questions about the seal to help the operator assess the situation. What is concerning you about the seal? How long have you been observing the seal? How long is the seal? Are there any visible concerns – fishing line, hook, wounds? Is the seal on sand or rocks? Are people getting to close to the seal? Did you notice any tags on the hind flippers?
The hotline for Hawaiian Monk Seal reporting is 888-256-9840
HMAR providing education and outreach at a busy beach where a young Hawaiian Monk Seal chose to rest.
Why are Hawaiian Monk Seals Endangered?
Currently, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Population is estimated to be about 1,400 throughout all of the Hawaiian Islands and only about 300 of which live within the main Hawaiian Islands. Only about 40 inhabit the island of Oahu (where I currently work).
Hawaiian Monk Seals face two main threats on the main Hawaiian Islands:
- Toxoplasmosis (aka “Toxo”)
- Toxo is a parasite that reproduces in cats. Parasitic eggs are spread to the environment through their poop 💩and can persist in the environment for over a year – surviving frost and extreme heat
- In Hawaiian Monk Seals (and many other wildlife species) Toxo can destroy heart, liver, brain, and muscle tissues leading to death
- Humans are also susceptible to Toxo…
- Fishing line entanglement and hooks
- Hawaiian Monk Seals are opportunistic hunters and sometimes go after baitfish or fish caught in nets which can result in ingesting hooks, net or line entanglement, and sometimes drowning.
How Can You Help?
- Keep your cats indoors
- Check out these catios and use Promo Code EcoFairy at checkout
- Know where your seafood comes from
- Did the Fisherman use barbless hooks? Did they comply with net regulations?
- Report all (actual or potential) fishery interactions to 888-256-9840
- Call in all Hawaiian Monk Seal sightings! 888-256-9840
- Volunteer with organizations like Hawaii Marine Animal Response or donate to their efforts today!