Please select your home edition
Upffront 2020 Foredeck Club SW LEADERBOARD

Hawaiian monk seal population surpasses 1,500

by NOAA Fisheries 14 May 21:17 UTC
A juvenile Hawaiian monk seal rests on the beach. © NOAA Fisheries (NMFS Permit #22677; PMNM Permit #2021-015)

The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the world's most endangered seal species. For almost 40 years, NOAA has monitored the seal's population trend, researched threats, and taken many actions to save seals.

Hawaiian monk seals are also one of NOAA's nine Species in the Spotlight. After decades of declining numbers in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the total population of monk seals began to increase gradually in 2013 in both the Northwestern and main Hawaiian Islands. This is evidence of the species' resilience and the payoff of diligent conservation work. This year the population surpassed 1,500 for the first time in more than 20 years!

Research and recovery challenges

Due to the Covid pandemic, NOAA canceled monk seal and other research surveys in 2020. This marked an unprecedented break in long-term monitoring in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands where most of the monk seals live. NOAA's monk seal scientists are accustomed to having their finger on the pulse of their favorite endangered species, so they were distressed to lose touch with most of the population for almost 2 years. This was especially true because, despite encouraging overall trends, there were also causes for concern when our field teams last visited the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in 2019.

For example, the recent loss of crucial island habitat at Lalo (French Frigate Shoals) and poor survival of pups at some other sites are reminders of how fragile the species' recovery is. In the summer of 2021, our field teams returned with much enthusiasm to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. They spent about a month and a half checking up on the monk seal population and conducting life-saving interventions.

A good outlook for the population

Following the return of field teams to Honolulu last autumn, population analysis began. Now the numbers are in, and the news is good! We estimate that the total number of monk seals throughout their entire range was 1,570 in 2021. That is a respectable increase since the most recent estimate of 1,435 in 2019. It marks the first time the population has exceeded 1,500 seals in more than 2 decades.

This positive trend was also widespread—the estimates at six of the eight subpopulations in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands increased to some degree. The remaining two stayed almost exactly the same from 2019 to 2021. Also, despite intentional and accidental human-caused deaths of several seals in 2021, the population in the main Hawaiian Islands still continued to grow.

Species long-term recovery

From 2013 to 2021, the monk seal population grew at an average rate of 2 percent per year, providing hope for the species' long-term recovery. Even so, the level required for the species to be down-listed from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act is more than double the current number of monk seals.

We are also paying attention to some concerning trends. The survival of pups during their first year of life, for example, is often a leading indicator of population trends. Some Northwestern Hawaiian Islands subpopulations have shown low pup survival for a year or more. Also, the loss of island habitat at Lalo due to climate change heightens concerns about the long-term viability of the mostly low-lying islands that monk seals inhabit throughout most of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Our monk seal field teams are on their way back to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands for the 2022 field season with renewed ambition to learn more and actively engage in life-saving interventions.

Related Articles

Learn more about Alaska's deep-sea corals
Alaska Coral & Sponge Initiative began the Gulf of Alaska Coral & Sponge Model Validation Survey Over the next four weeks, scientists on the R/V Woldstad will collect seafloor images from a specially designed stereo-camera system and water samples for environmental DNA (eDNA) analyses at up to 300 sites. Posted on 24 Jun
Sea Turtle Week 2022
Celebrating sea turtle conservation This year our celebration highlights the impact of climate change on sea turtles, how sea turtles hear and why understanding their hearing is important, and what you can do to protect sea turtles. Posted on 18 Jun
Six endangered marine animals you might not know
Learn what NOAA Fisheries is doing to aid endangered marine species For Endangered Species Day, we want to bring awareness to some endangered marine species that you might not know about. In an ecosystem, each species plays an important role, whether it's as small as a coral polyp or big as a whale. Posted on 29 May
Report from the Pacific Seas
Seafloor mapping and coral reef assessment in the Mariana Archipelago In this mission, scientists with different backgrounds share the goals of measuring water depths, mapping the seafloor, and gathering information on coral reef habitats. Posted on 22 May
Vaquitas are not impacted by inbreeding depression
Study finds vaquitas have high probability to recover if deaths in gillnets are immediately halted Unchecked gillnetting has pushed the world's smallest porpoise to the brink of extinction: there are roughly 10 vaquitas remaining in the Gulf of California in Mexico. Posted on 16 May
New study about where giant manta rays go and why
Knowing where mantas are helps managers protect them from threats When you see a big, dark shadow with wings glide by you in the water, your first reaction might be one of fear due to the enormous size. But then you realize the world's largest ray is harmless and just looking for its next meal: tiny zooplankton. Posted on 2 May
NOAA scientists discuss new report on climate
Podcaster John Sheehan talks with Dr. Kirstin Holsman and Dr. Libby Jewett Climate change is getting worse, it's happening everywhere, and it requires immediate action. These are just a few of the takeaways of a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Posted on 1 May
New global forecasts of marine heatwaves
Foretelling ecological and economic impacts Researchers have developed global forecasts that can provide up to a year's advance notice of marine heatwaves, sudden and pronounced increases in ocean temperatures that can dramatically affect ocean ecosystems. Posted on 24 Apr
Using hungry fish to conserve coral reefs
Identifying best algae-grazing fish can help fight against algae overgrowth & promote reef recovery For her Ph.D. research on invasive lionfish, Tye Kindinger spent most days underwater, scuba diving at reefs in the Bahamas. She became familiar with individual fish that she would see while monitoring the reef. Posted on 24 Apr
Visualizing climate change with Melissa Karp
New interactive fisheries data portal shows how specific marine species' locations shifted over time Global warming impacts nearly every aspect of NOAA Fisheries' conservation and management mission, including where marine species live in the ocean. Posted on 22 Apr
Sea Sure 2021 - Blakes Toilets - FOOTERPantaenius 2022 - SAIL FOOTER - ROWHyde Sails 2021 - Basic FOOTER