The Hawaiian monk seal has thrived for the past 13 million years in the oceanic waters and coral reefs of the Hawaiian Islands. Today, the Hawaiian monk seal is critically endangered and headed toward extinction. Hawaiian monk seals are the most endangered endemic marine mammal in the USA and one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world. Over the last 50 years, the Hawaiian monk seal population has declined by more than 60% and is now at its lowest level in recorded history (fewer than 1100). Reasons for the decline of the monk seal include: human hunting of species to near extinction in the mid-1800s; entanglement in fishing marine debris; unintentional hooking and entanglement in fishing gear; loss of habitat for pupping and resting; competition for food in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI); aggression by males that kill females or pups; and shark predation in the NWHI.
Most Hawaiian monk seals can be found around the NWHI in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, but a small and growing number now live in the main Hawaiian Islands. The overall population is declining, but the increase in the main Hawaiian Islands is promising for the future of the species. However, with more seals in the human populated islands of the Hawaiian Islands, more people will interact with the seal. Efforts to help humans and seals to co-exist with each other is important for the recovery of the species.
Marine Conservation Institute's monk seal campaign focuses on working constructively with fisherman and other stakeholders to meet the seal's conservation needs, while also educating the public on how to co-exist with the growing number of seals in the main Hawaiian Islands. Honua Consulting, an environmental and cultural consulting firm, represents Marine Conservation Institute in Hawaii.