It is always fun to be walking along a Kauai beach and discover a Hawaiian monk seal sunning on the sand. Residents are very protective of Hawaii’s state mammal because they are one of the only two remaining monk seal species on Earth and their habitat is limited to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands and the main Hawaiian Islands, especially Kauai, Oahu and Molokai.
The Hawaiian monk seal is the only seal native to Hawaii, and, along with the Hawaiian hoary bat, is one of only two mammals endemic to the islands. They are on the endangered species list with a total population of approximately 1,400. The bad news is that the larger population that inhabits the northwest islands is declining. The good news is that over recent years the number of pups born in the Hawaiian chain has slightly increased.
Hawaiian monk seals spend most of their time at sea foraging in deeper water outside of shallow lagoon reefs. They hunt fish, lobster, octopus and squid in deep water coral beds. Tiger sharks, great white sharks and Galapagos sharks are their predators. To rest and breed they move onto the sand and volcanic rock. This is when we humans get the chance to observe them.
Sandy beaches are also used for pupping. Females reach maturity at age four and bear one pup a year. Births occur between March and June. Mother monk seals are dedicated to their pups and remain with them for the first five or six weeks of their lives. The pups nurse but the mothers don’t eat anything during this time consequently losing hundreds of pounds. Once the pup is weened, the mother deserts the pup, leaving it on its own, and returns to the sea to forage for the first time since the pup’s arrival. Following is a video reflecting just how protective a mother monk seal can be when confronted by an intruder.