Hawaiian Monk Seal


The Hawaiian monk seal is named for its folds of skin that somewhat resemble a monk’s cowl, and because it is usually seen alone or in small groups. Hawaiians call the seal `Ilio holo I ka uaua, which means, “dog that runs in rough water.”

These photos of the underwater Monk seal are published here courtesy of esteemed Physical Therapist and diver, Barry Fackler. Although this one appears quite friendly, my understanding is that they can be vicious and should not be approached. As they are endangered in Hawaii, it is prohibited to interfere with them in any way.

Mother monk seals are dedicated and remain with their pups constantly for the first five or six weeks of their lives. They don’t eat during this challenging time and may lose hundreds of pounds.

This Monk seal exited the ocean just in front of us at O’oma and rested on the beach only a few feet away from us for several hours. We later found out that she was pregnant and gave birth only a few weeks later.

Threats to Survival

Like the other species of warm-water monk seals, the Mediterranean and Caribbean monk seals, the Hawaiian monk seal has a tenuous grasp on survival. The Caribbean monk seal, in fact, is believed to have been extinct since the 1970s.

Humans have moved into many of the desirable coastal habitats that these animals once frequented, so open coastline is at a premium. Monk seals have also been victims of fisheries, though they are usually accidental bycatch and not a targeted species. Sharks also prey on these seals, and males sometimes kill females of their own species in group attacks called “mobbing.”

Today, Hawaiian monk seals are threatened and, although many protection efforts are in place, their numbers have continually dwindled over the years. There is a Monk Seal hospital located in Kona at the National Energy Lab where injured or sick animals are taken. They’ve saved a number of monk seals in the last several years.

As of July 5, 2020, there have been 18 known births on the major Hawaiian Islands so things are looking up!

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