The Hawaiian Monk Seal

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The Hawaiian monk seal, or Monachus schauinslandi, was one of the original species to be placed under the Endangered Species Act that was enacted in 1973. As of 2010, the population of the monk seal is approximately 1,100, with an annual decrease of approximately 4.5%. The Hawaiian monk seal is primarily found on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands that are made up of coral reef atolls, seamounts, banks, and shoals. This is due to the fact that the monk seals primarily forage on the barrier reefs of the atolls, on submerged reefs, and on banks further from the atolls (Curtice et al, 2011). The monk seals primarily like to look for food on the surface of the ocean floor and will search for food in depths up to 500 meters. (National Marine Fisheries …show more content…

Humans were not around at the time the monk seals arrived, and the monk seals are more commonly found in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands that are less inhibited by people compared to the Main Hawaiian Islands with a larger human population (Lowry et al, 2011). The Hawaiian monk seal population has been in a rise and fall ever since the discovery of the monk seals by a Russian explorer in 1805. Due to its discovery, the monk seal population virtually died out by the mid 1800’s due to the commercial seal hunting and being killed for food by sailors and whalers (Lowry et al, 2011). Until the mid 1900’s, the seals were never seen and thought to be extinct because they were never seen by hunters or sailors, but the first beach count survey was taken in 1958, showing a slight recovery (Schultz et al, 2010). Another decline was also seen during the 1960’s-1970’s that showed a 75% decrease in number of monk seals seen on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (Gilmartin et al, …show more content…

The number one priority should be to increase the survival rates of the female juvenile monk seals; doing so will ultimately increase the population size. With the programs such as Head Start and the translocation program at French Frigate Shoals, there was evidence of improvement in the monk seal population, but as always there was a decline that followed. The current Recovery Plan for the Hawaiian Monk Seal states that for the monk seal to be downlisted from endangered to threatened, the population needs to be more than 2,900 individuals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and that at least 5 of the 6 main sub-populations need to have more than 100 individuals (National Marine Fisheries Service, 2007). For this to occur, the main criteria that needs to be addressed is the pup and juvenile survival rates. The Hawaiian monk seal population cannot continue to survive and grow if less juvenile female pups are reaching reproductive age and not surviving, this has caused the current decrease in Hawaiian monk seal populations to continue to decrease and to decrease more rapidly (Norris et al, 2011). To do this, more projects such as Head Start need to be planned and implemented to help save the shrinking population. For example, an additional research and rehabilitation center on either the French Frigate Shoal or Green Island could be used and would be extremely beneficial.

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