Known to the native Hawaiians as ʻIlio-holo-i-ka-uaua, or "dog that runs in rough water," the Hawaiian monk seal is near the brink of extinction. Help save this magnificent creature today!
Today, more than 30 years later, it has the unfortunate status as the most endangered pinniped in the United States. Over the last 30 years, significant efforts have been made to enhance the recovery of the species, but its population has declined at a rate of 4% per year for the past decade, and there are now fewer than 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals left in existence. Moreover, a newborn monk seal has only a 1-in-5 chance of surviving to adulthood. This is dismal news for a species found only in Hawaii and that has been in existence for more than 13 million years. In the video below, Dr. Frances Gulland, Director of Veterinary Science at The Marine Mammal Center, explains the many challenges these critically endangered seals face today.
Of the 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals alive today, 100 are in the Main Hawaiian Islands, and 1,000 are in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. For reasons such as shark predation, food shortages and marine debris, the monk seals on the Northwest Hawaiian Islands are having a harder time than their counterparts on the Main Islands. However, the seals on the Main Islands are also increasingly victims of marine debris and other negative human interactions, such as gun shots and harassment. On June 8, 2010, a new bill was signed into law by the Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii that makes it a felony to harm a Hawaiian monk seal, and imposes fines up to $50,000 for those who commit crimes against monk seals.
This new law is a great sign of the commitment Hawaii is making toward the protection of the monk seal. But Hawaii needs our help to do something else to help save these seals.
When Hawaiian monk seals are sick or injured, there is no place for them to get help in Hawaii. The Marine Mammal Center and the Hawaii Wildlife Fund have joined forces to raise $2 million to build a Hawaiian monk seal healthcare facility in Kona, on the big Island. For the last decade, The Marine Mammal Center has worked closely with government agencies and other nonprofits to provide medical assistance to monk seals, often flying out teams of its veterinarians, veterinary technicians and members of its trained volunteer corps to provide hands-on medical care in temporary and make-shift facilities in Hawaii.
The Marine Mammal Center knows full well the value and necessity of a hospital dedicated to the medical care of sick and injured marine mammals; in 2009 it opened a new hospital in California that allowed it to care for more than 1,700 animals that same year (that's more than the total number of monk seals alive today).
Although The Marine Mammal Center is responsible for rescuing marine mammals along more than 600 miles of coastline in California, it cares about all marine mammals, and has always been willing to help provide care or assistance for species around the world. See Q&A below.
It is with this spirit that The Marine Mammal Center and the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, collaborative organizations with the National Marine Fisheries Service of NOAA, have launched a $2 million campaign to build a new urgent healthcare facility for Hawaiian monk seals in Kona on the Big Island on land leased from the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA). Such a facility could not only provide emergency medical care to sick and injured monk seals, but could also be used to help baby seals successfully reach the age of 3, after which their survival rate increases to 70%.
There's no time to waste: more monk seals are dying each year than are being born and now, more than ever, every seal matters!
You can help Hawaiian monk seals: Make Your Gift of Hope Today
Mahalo,The Marine Mammal Center
Q: Why are you building the urgent care facility on the Big Island? I understand that monk seals mainly show up on islands such as Kauai and Oahu.
A: The simple answer is location, location, location. The land on NELHA is 10 minutes from the Kona Airport, which makes transport of humans and seals to the hospital easy and efficient. In addition, the NELHA land already has the necessary basic infrastructure and permits in place that would allow us to construct a facility and get it up and running quickly. Ultimately, our vision is to have these healthcare facilities on all of the Main Hawaiian Islands, and operated by a Hawaii-based non-profit.
Q: Aren't monk seals found in other parts of the world, other than Hawaii?
A: The Hawaiian monk seal is specific to Hawaii. The Caribbean monk seal , which was native to the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, was declared extinct in 2008. The Mediterranean monk seal is currently one of the most endangered mammals in the world; fewer than 500 are alive today. Since the Hawaiian monk seal only exists in U.S. waters, efforts to conserve it are less complex than for the Mediterranean monk seal, which exists in waters controlled by a number of different countries.
Q: Why is The Marine Mammal Center, which is in California, qualified to help the Hawaiian monk seal since it only exists in Hawaii?
A: Because it works with a number of marine mammal species, the Center has been able to apply its medical knowledge and resources toward the conservation of the Hawaiian monk seal. Founded in 1975, The Marine Mammal Center has cared for more than 16,000 animals. The Center has also helped to enhance marine mammal medical care and facilities, and has made significant contributions to marine mammal medicine, protocols and scientific research worldwide. In addition to the Hawaiian monk seal, the Center has applied its knowledge to the recovery efforts of other endangered and threatened species around the world including Steller sea lions, Guadalupe fur seals, Southern sea otters, Northern fur seals, Hooker sea lions in the Auckland Islands, and Mediterranean monk seals.
Dr. Frances Gulland, the Center's Director of Veterinary Science, has been a member of the Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Team since 2001, a group led by the National Marine Fisheries Service under the Endangered Species Act and consisting of government representatives and scientists. Dr. Gulland is one of the world's leading veterinary experts in marine mammal pathology and surgery. Dr. Gulland holds a PhD, VetMB, MRCVS, MA, and BA from the University of Cambridge and serves on the Committee of Scientific Advisors to the US Marine Mammal Commission, an independent federal agency chartered to protect and conserve marine mammals. In addition to Dr. Gulland's involvement on the Recovery Team, the Center has been actively involved in recovery efforts and scientific research projects for the endangered Hawaiian monk seal for the last ten years.
Q: What expertise does the Hawaii Wildlife Fund bring to this collaborative effort?
A: The Hawaii Wildlife Fund was co-founded by Bill Gilmartin and Hannah Bernard, former National Marine Fisheries Service scientists, in 1996. The critically endangered status of the Hawaiian monk seal initially drew the two together to support its recovery. Gilmartin's work with monk seals as the leader of the NMFS Protected Species Investigation Program in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands was featured in the January 1992 issue of National Geographic magazine. Dr. Gilmartin has been a leader in efforts to save the Hawaiian monk seal for the last 30 years; he initiated and managed the monk seal recovery program from 1980 to 1996, has been a member of the Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Team since 1980, and conducted monk seal captive care programs from 1981 to 1995.