In this week’s segment of diving down with Mermaid Mikena, we will be talking about a recent special encounter with two Hawaiian Monk Seals.
A Rare Moment
We were floating along our dive with Hawaii Eco Divers, admiring the rays of sun shining through the ripples of waves. Then two Hawaii Monk Seals come cruising by overhead. We instantly stopped in our path to admire their beauty.
Not only did we witness them swim overhead, but as we swam along we saw them swim over into a cave area. Here they were seen playing with each other, swimming around and giving playful bites around each other’s face.
Let’s Learn About Hawaiian Monk Seals*
Did you know that the Hawaiian Monk Seal is one of the most endangered species in the world? There’s estimated to only be 1,400 left. Their population has been declining to this over the last six decades. However, this decline has slowed in the last 10 years due to recovery efforts.
These monk seals are endemic to Hawaii, meaning they are only found in Hawaii. They are born black pups, and as they grow up they turn dark gray to brown on their back and light gray to yellowish brown on their belly.
Fun fact: they go through a “catastrophic molt” typically once a year. In this process, they shed the top layer of their skin and fur.
Why They’re Endangered*
There are four main threats that contribute to their population decline:
- Food Limitation: juvenile survival has been low for many years due to a limited food supply. Large populations of other apex predators makes for strong competition for food.
- Shark Predation: Galapagos Sharks account for a large portion of injury and death. This behavior from the sharks is fairly new, and has recently posed a problem to our seals.
- Entanglement in Marine Debris: monk seals have the highest rate of entanglement for pinniped (carnivorous marine mammals) species. Rates of marine debris has remained constant, which is dangerous for pups.
- Loss of Habitat: this is a significant problem in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Monk seals are commonly found in this area, which is subject to beach loss from storm erosion and sea level rise. Beaches provide a sanctuary for seals, a place for them to rest and, most importantly, for pups to grow.
So What Can We Do?
One of the most helpful things you can do is always report any sighting of Hawaiian Monk Seals to NOAA via email. As much information you can provide is helpful to them, as well as any photos as this helps ID individual seals. You can also support the Hawaiian Monk Seal Preservation Ohana. In addition, it is very important to not crowd them or harass them. They may swim near you or right overhead, but otherwise do your best to not approach them yourself.
If you aren’t a diver or in Hawaii, you can support by spreading awareness and playing your part in the fight to decrease marine debris. Even if you aren’t in Hawaii, cleaning up your local beach or avoid purchasing unethical seafood.
Together, we can help save our Hawaiian Monk Seals and create a better future for them.
Written by Divemaster Intern Mikena Shay
*Information obtained from NOAA NOAA Fisheries, (n.d.). Hawaiian monk seal. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/hawaiian-monk-seal