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Photo courtesy of NMFS/NOAA

Save the Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal
In 1976, the Hawaiian monk seal was listed as an endangered species...
Photo courtesy of NMFS/NOAA

Today, this species has the unfortunate status
as the most endangered seal in the United States.
Its population has declined at a rate of 4% per year for the last decade, and now there are fewer than 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals left in existence – dismal news for a species that has existed for more than 13 million years and is found only in Hawaii. Threats facing Hawaiian monk seals are many and include shark predation, food shortages, marine debris and other negative human impacts, such as gun shots, fishing hook ingestion, and harassment. A newborn monk seal has only a 1-in-5 chance of surviving to adulthood. While recent legislation in Hawaii makes it a felony to harm a Hawaiian monk seal, there is still much work to be done. For the last decade, The Marine Mammal Center in California has worked closely with government agencies and nonprofit organizations in Hawaii, including the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, the Pacific Islands Regional Office of the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, to provide medical assistance to monk seals, often flying out veterinary teams and trained volunteers to provide hands-on medical care in make-shift facilities, because every seal matters.

Currently there is no dedicated facility in Hawaii to care for sick, injured and orphaned Hawaiian monk seals. 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. This hospital is urgently needed and will provide an easily accessible, dedicated site for emergency medical care and the rearing of newborn pups (once pups reach the age of 3, their survival rate increases to 70%). Together, we can make a difference. The Hawaii Wildlife Fund is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of Hawaii’s native wildlife through research, education and conservation. The Fund’s

Q: Why are you building the urgent care facility on the Big Island, when monk seals mainly show up on islands such as Kauai and Oahu? A: The simple answer is location, location, location. The proposed hospital site, at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA), is 10 minutes from the Kona Airport which makes transportation easy and efficient. In addition, the site already has the necessary infrastructure and permits in place to allow quick construction. Q: Are monk seals found in other parts of the world, other than Hawaii? A: The Hawaiian monk seal is only found in 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. Q: Aren’t monk seals doing well in the Main Hawaiian Islands? A: 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 Northwest Hawaiian Island seals are faring less well than their counterparts on the Main Islands. However, the seals on the Main Islands are increasingly victims of trash ingestion or entanglement and other negative human impacts. In 2010, a bill was signed into law in Hawaii that makes it a felony to harm a Hawaiian monk seal, and imposes fines up to $50,000. This new law is a great sign of the commitment Hawaii is making toward the protection of the monk seal. Q: Why is The Marine Mammal Center in California qualified to help the Hawaiian monk seal in Hawaii? A: Because it works with a large number of marine mammal species, the Center has been able to apply its broad 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 made significant contributions to marine mammal medicine, protocols and science 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 actively involved in recovery efforts and scientific research projects for the Hawaiian monk seal for the last ten years and has been a member of the Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Team since 2001. Dr. Gulland is one of the world’s leading veterinary experts in marine mammal pathology and surgery and serves on the Committee of Scientific Advisors to the US Marine Mammal Commission. Dr. Gulland is supported by a robust team of clinical veterinarians, technicians and volunteers at the Center with significant experience in the care of injured, ill and orphaned marine mammals. Q: What expertise does the Hawaii Wildlife Fund bring to this collaborative effort? A: The Hawaii Wildlife Fund was cofounded 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. 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.

The population of Hawaiian monk seals is projected to fall below 1,000 animals by 2014.
— International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Above: KP2, a young Hawaiian monk seal rehabilitated then released back to the wild.
Photo courtesy of NOAA. NMFS permit #932-1489-09

Below: Rare Hawaiian monk seal twins receiving medical care before release.
Photo courtesy Ingrid Overgard, The Marine Mammal Center. NMFS permit #932-1489-09

teams are educators, conservationists, researchers, naturalists, communities, volunteers and donors devoted to the preservation of Hawaii’s fragile marine ecosystem and inhabitants. The Marine Mammal Center knows the value and necessity of a hospital dedicated to the medical care of sick, injured and starving 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 600 miles of California coastline, it has always been willing to help provide care for marine mammal species around the world. This is an incredible time of hope and possibility. But there’s no time to waste: more monk seals are dying each year than are being born.

Photo courtesy of NMFS/NOAA

To take action for the Hawaiian monk seal is the right thing to do – for this culturally iconic species, for the environment and for future generations.

How you can help
The Marine Mammal Center and the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, collaborative organizations with the National Marine Fisheries Service of NOAA for the Hawaiian monk seal recovery effort, are accepting private tax-deductible donations toward this project. To make donations, please visit:
.1 The Hawaii Wildlife Fund’s website – or send a check payable to “Hawaii Wildlife Fund – Hawaiian Monk Seal Healthcare Facility” to:

Hawaii Wildlife Fund P.O. Box 70 Volcano, HI 96785 Phone (808) 575-2046

2 The Marine Mammal Center’s website – or send a check payable to “The Marine Mammal Center – Hawaiian Monk Seal Healthcare Facility” to: The Marine Mammal Center 2000 Bunker Road Fort Cronkhite Sausalito, CA 94965 Phone (415) 289-7335
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