Conservation of the Critically Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals

by Laurel Zaima, RJD Intern

Education is always the first step towards the conservation and recovery of a species. The endangered species list intends to bring awareness and education to the public about species that are on the brink of extinction. There are several different classifications that explain the population status of species: least concern, near threatened, vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered, extinct in the wild, and extinct (Monachus Schauinslandi). One of the most primitive of all living phocid species, the Hawaiian Monk Seal, is categorized as critically endangered. In the mid-19th century, hunters targeted the Hawaiian Monk Seals for their precious skins and oils. The Monk Seal populations were hit so hard that they have yet to make a significant recovery. However, it is still possible for the Hawaiian Monk Seal populations to bounce back if the public is informed about the importance of conserving this species and the methods of successful conservation.

One of the reasons that hunters were capable of killing a significant amount of the Hawaiian Monk Seals in the 19th century was due to the seals’ behaviors and their small habitat range. The Hawaiian Monk Seals are an endemic species to the Hawaiian Islands, which means they are native to this chain of islands and they are found no where else on earth (Protected Resources Division).  Their small range of habitat made them an easy target for hunters. Although Monk Seals can travel hundreds of miles into the open ocean, they are not migratory mammals and have a habit of frequenting the same beaches over and over (Protected Resources Division). They also are usually found sleeping on the Hawaiian Island Beaches or in underwater caves, sometimes for days at a time (Protected Resources Division).

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