Meet Kepuhinui, a Special Monk Seal Born on Molokaʻi

Formerly known as L4, this male monk seal was born during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Monkseal Molokai
Meet Kepuhinui, The Great One of Kepuhi Beach. Born on Molokaʻi during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kepuhinui did not get tags attached to his hind flippers, which is often done for young monk seal pups, so now his gifted Hawaiian name is an added identity. Photo: Courtesy of Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response

In the Hawaiian culture, names are immensely important. Names tell a story, share a history or honor a loved one.

And that’s true even when that name is bestowed on a Hawaiian monk seal, one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world.

In late May, a group of second-grade students from the Hawaiian language immersion Kualapuʻu Charter School in Kaunakakai on Molokaʻi participated in a unique classroom experience that resulted in a culturally meaningful name for a Molokaʻi-born Hawaiian monk seal.

His name is Kepuhinui, and he’s a 1-year-old male seal born on the Friendly Isle during the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, he had only been known by his fading bleach identifier mark L4.

Here’s how the students came to that name: In haku inoa, or a name-weaving exercise, they used environmental, geographical, astronomical and cultural information particular to the seal in order to “weave’’ together his unique name. As they talked about it, the conversation moved to a popular Molokaʻi beach, Kepuhi, which is frequented by monk seals. The students added the word, nui, which connotes someone with regal or meaningful presence.

The result: Kepuhinui, meaning The Great One of Kepuhi Beach.

“When our kids get to name one of these rare animals, they elevate visibility for how unique each of these seals are,” said Todd Yamashita, the Molokaʻi Operations Manager for Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response, who conducts community engagement and other species conservation work on Molokaʻi. “I want our kids to know that this is their seal, that it’s Hawaiian like them, and something they can feel good about. Our kids already understand and practice kuleana (responsibility), so it’s cool to reflect back to them that they already play an active role in conservation and community building.”

Developed in partnership by HMAR and local Molokaʻi-based curriculum developer Maile Naehu of Ka Hale Hoaka, and in collaboration with NOAA Fisheries and the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources, the naming process shares the history, biology and cultural importance of Hawaiian monk seals. In addition, it helps students realize the important conservation role they play in their community.

Categories: Environment, Family, Molokaʻi, News