It Takes a Nation to Save the Hawaiian Monk Seal

In 2012, the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i (CCH) was focusing on the endangered palila bird on Mauna Kea, imperiled shearwaters and petrels on Kaua‘i, and invasive miconia plants on O‘ahu – not the Hawaiian monk seal. We thought the seal was going to be okay. Afterall, the population on the main islands was increasing, volunteers were seal-sitting on our beaches, and most people welcomed the seals back to their ancestral home in the main islands.

Hawaiian monk seal and green turtle
Endangered ‘ilioholoikauaua (Hawaiian monk seal) and threatened honu (green sea turtle), Tern Island. Photo by Mark Sullivan, NOAA.
But when four monk seals were intentionally killed on Kaua‘i and on Moloka‘i within 6 months in 2011 and 2012, CCH and the National Wildlife Federation immediately swung into action. CCH offered reward money. CCH and NWF convened a meeting of non-government organizations to take collective action in response to the killings.

The coalition became the Aloha Kanaloa Coalition – named in honor of the Hawaiian god of the ocean. It raised nearly $10,000 for a public service announcement about the monk seal. It ran on KFVE television during the Merrie Monarch Festival, a popular hula competition in April 2012.

With support from Patagonia and our members, CCH and NWF produced give-aways, such as frisbees made from recycled plastic water bottles, can coolers, and floating key chains for boaters and canoe paddlers with the 24/7 marine mammal anonymous hotline number 888 256-9840 printed on them.

With kokua from our poster partners, CCH and NWF printed thousands of monk seal posters for Hawai‘i schools. By popular demand, we reprinted thousands of NWF Ranger Rick Hawaiian adventure comics, in which Ranger Rick and his buddies free a young Hawaiian monk seal from a derelict fishing net. These outreach materials are distributed free of charge by dedicated volunteers on O‘ahu and the neighbor islands.

‘Ilioholoikauaua: An Ancient Species

The monk seal, locally known as ‘ilioholoikauaua (“dog running in the rough sea”) has dwelled in the realm of Kanaloa for millions of years – even before the islands of Maui and Hawai‘i were formed. Following at least 60 consecutive years of decline, the current population is estimated at 900 to 1,100 seals, and the overall population is declining at approximately 4% a year. The precipitous decline is due to hunting in the 19th century, human alteration of the ecosystem, entanglement in marine debris, loss of habitat, reduction in food due to overfishing, and disturbance by humans.

Immediate improvements in the federal monk seal recovery program led by the National Marine Fisheries Service are necessary to save this species in peril.  The program needs significantly more funding – at least $7 million a year.  But the recovery program receives far less from congress each year.  Without sufficient funding, the seal may go extinct in the next few decades.  We have a moral responsibility to care for our children’s future and generations to come.  They deserve to know and enjoy the Hawaiian monk seal as we do today.

What Can You Do to Help?

If you live in Hawai‘i, the National Marine Fisheries Service is looking for citizens to report seals when they see them on the beach or in the water, and volunteers to assist monk seal researchers and educate beachgoers about monk seal natural history and responsible viewing of this endangered species.

To report a seal sighting or to volunteer, contact your island’s Marine Mammal Response Coordinator:

            O‘ahu: 808-220-7802
            Kaua‘i: 808-651-7668
            Moloka‘i: 808-553-5555
            Maui & Lana‘i: 808-292-2372
            Hawai‘i Island – East: 808-756-5961
            Hawai‘i Island – West: 808-987-0765

Keep the 24/7 marine mammal anonymous hotline number 888-256-9840 on your cell phone or with you at all times.  Reports of injured seals and other marine mammals, hookings, entanglement, and strandings that are called in quickly can save an animal’s life.  Calls may be made anonymously.

Hawai‘i residents are urged to contact our members of congress and ask them to secure $7 million a year to save the Hawaiian monk seal:

Senator Brian Schatz Honolulu phone:808 523-2061 fax: 808 523-2065 DC phone: 202 224-3934 fax: 202 228-1153

Senator Mazie Hirono Honolulu phone: 808 522-8970 fax: 808 545-4683 DC phone: 202 224-6361 fax 202 224-2126

Representative Tulsi Gabbard Honolulu phone: 808 541-1986 fax: 808 538-0233 DC phone: 202 225-4906 fax: 202 225-4987

Representative Mark Takai Honolulu phone: 808 541-2570 fax: 808 533-0133 DC phone 202 225-2726 fax 202 225-0688

If you live outside Hawai‘i, click on this link to contact your U.S. Senator and Representative and ask them to fully fund the Hawaiian monk seal recovery program.

Learn more about the Hawaiian monk seal by reading this new report by the Marine Conservation Institute – one of our partners in the challenge to save the Hawaiian monk seal.

Last, please make a donation today to  the National Wildlife Federation and the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i. We are able to help the Hawaiian monk seal and other species in peril only because you care and support our work.

Mahalo nui loa.

Marjorie ZieglerMarjorie Ziegler is the Executive Director of the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i, which has served as the Hawai‘i state affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation since 1971.