5 Things About the Hawaiian Monk Seal You Need To Know

Just because you shouldn’t get close to them doesn’t mean you can’t get to know them.
hawaiian monk seal

Everyone loves spotting Hawaiian monk seals along Hawaii’s shores. They’re an adorable reminder why Hawaii adopted the animal as its state mammal. Known primarily for its plump figure and lounging attitude, here’s some extracurricular information on our favorite beach-goers.

They have many names

Although referred to in English as the Hawaiian monk seal for its solitary nature and the folds on its neck that resemble a monk’s cowl, there are a few different names in Hawaiian for our blubbery buddies. Ilioholokauaua (dog running in rough seas) is the name most often associated with the mammal, however other names include na mea hulu (the furry one) and iliokai (seadog).

You won’t find them anywhere else in the world

Archaeological and historical data shows that the Hawaiian monk seal has inhabited the Hawaiian Islands for the past several hundred years. However, evidence suggests that they may have come here 3.6 to 11.6 million years ago through the Central American Seaway, a once existing channel between North America and South America. Along with the hoary bat, they’re one of the two mammal species endemic to Hawaii, meaning that they are only found in the Hawaiian archipelago and nowhere else in the world.

There’s only one other monk seal species

Part of an exclusive club, Hawaiian monk seals are one of the only two remaining monk seal species left on earth. Originally a trio, the Caribbean monk seal is now considered extinct with the last seal being seen in 1952, making the Hawaiian monk seal the only earless seal species to live in a tropical climate. The only other monk seal species, the Mediterranean monk seal, is deemed critically endangered with less than 500 individuals remaining.

hawaiian monk seal
They’re adorable, but it’s always best to let sleeping monk seals lie.
Photo: Greg Honda/Thinkstock

Population numbers are slowly increasing

Don’t let their cool demeanor and adorable offspring fool you, Hawaiian monk seals are in a perilous situation. Currently an endangered species on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species, the remaining population is estimated at 1,272. However, things are looking up for Hawaii’s state mammal: There’s been an increase of pups being born in the main Hawaiian Islands such as Oahu, Kauai and Molokai.

Give them some space

With an increase in Hawaiian monk seal population in the main Hawaiian Islands, it’s a good idea to remember they need their space. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Association (NOAA) recommends keeping a distance of 150 feet, allowing the seal to remain undisturbed. Mother seals can be extremely protective of their pups, so for the safety of the seal and yourself, give the pair ample space and leash any of your pets.


For more information on the Hawaiian monk seal, click here.
If you see a beached Hawaiian monk seal, contact your island’s Marine Mammal Response Coordinator here.
For Hawaii monk seal volunteering opportunities, click here.

Categories: Environment, Family, First-Time