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Counting Hawaii Monk Seal

Help protect one of Hawaii’s endangered species – the Hawaiian monk seal. Volunteers will be needed for a bi-annual monk seal count this Saturday, Oct. 15 (10 a.m. to 1 p.m.). Get a front-row view of the seals and learn how to identify them during your Hawaii vacation. Be sure to bring a camera, water, sunscreen and binoculars.

Newborn pup Laakea and her mom will stay together until Laakea is fully weaned.

Seal counting will help researchers keep track of their population and educate people who might encounter them. Only about 1,200 monk seals exist, with 200 of them living in the main Hawaiian Islands. A record four Hawaiian monk seals have been born on Oahu this year. Most recently in August, a pup was born on the east side at Alan Davis Beach. Most monk seals can be spotted in the areas between Manana Island (Rabbit Island) and Sandy Beach. This year, the other seals were born on the North Shore and on Manana Island.

The population continues to decline overall, but experts predict a growth on the main Hawaiian Islands, where about 35 currently live. Researchers began keeping record of the seals 15 years ago. Since then, they’ve reported a drop in numbers living on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Because of Oahu’s monk seal boom, volunteers will also be needed to watch over the pups and adults that hang out on shore. They take turns supervising the area and informing beach-goers about these endangered sea mammals. Once a seal is spotted, researchers put up protective barriers and signs warning people not to get too close. Recently vandals damaged a fence surrounding the seal and graffitied the signs on the East side of Oahu.

It’s also important not to go near seal pups because they may become too friendly with humans. This makes it difficult for them to survive in the wild and often times, they end up living in aquariums. One seal had to be moved from Oahu and transported to the Northwestern Islands after it had been playing with humans near shore. Pups live on the beach with their moms until they’ve been weaned fully. Then they live on their own in the wild, and in order to do so successfully, we humans should keep our distance.

Ilioholoikauaua (e-leo-ho-low-e-kuh-OO-AH-OO-AH) is the Hawaiian name for this particular monk seal, which literally means “the dog that runs in the rough seas.” The more common name, monk seal, comes from the folds of skin behind their heads that look similar to a monk’s hood.

Volunteers from last year’s monk seal count learn about the endangered animal.

Many other efforts to protect the Hawaiian monk seal have been made. Last year, we wrote about a doll from the American Girl line that represented Hawaii. A dollar from each sale went toward the National Wildlife Federation. Also, you can help researchers keep track of the seals on your next visit. If you spot one, please call 808-220-7802. Some may get entangled in fishing nets or injured. Please call 1-888-256-9840 to report such sightings. Mahalo!


• Saturday, Oct. 15 (10am-1pm) • To find out where the designated watch zones will be, contact the Hawaiian Monk Seal Response Team Oahu (HMSRTO) at sealonthebeach@gmail.com • 808-234-7325 • www.HMSRTO.org

Photo Credit: HMSRTO

Posted by: Bruce Fisher on Oct 13, 2011