Hawaiian Monk Seals

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Encounter with Monk Seals: Respectful Wildlife Viewing

Hawaiian Monk Seal Oahu Tours Koolina


Many Oahu visitors may spot Hawaiian monk seals but few become experts while on vacation. Learn how to respectfully observe the endangered Hawaiian monk seals. Discover the best locations for sightings, understand their behaviors, and learn about conservation efforts to protect these rare marine mammals, including guidelines for safe and responsible viewing. This private tour offers the opportunity to learn all about the world’s most endangered seals. See them in the wild, on remote areas of the west coast of the island, departures near Ko Olina, Oahu.

Monk seals are not social seals and do not form harems or other large groups seen in some seal and sea lion species. Females give birth for the first time at five to nine years of age. Seal pups are usually born in the spring. They nurse for 5 to 6 weeks and can quadruple their birth weight of 35 pounds (16 kg). After weaning, pups live off their fat while they learn to forage for themselves. Some research and recovery projects aim to assure pup and juvenile survival in the wild.

Report monk seal sightings, but don’t approach or disturb them

Learn about monk seals and their need for protected habitat.

Help control marine debris; dispose of rubbish carefully; reduce, reuse, recycle!

Monk seal rules:

Stay 150 feet away from a monk seal, whether in the water or on land.

Keep dogs away from monk seals. They can infect seals with diseases for which they have no immunity.

To report violations or seal injuries, entanglements and sightings, call the National Marine Fisheries Service at 1-888-256-9840.

Hawaiian Monk Seal Color Book by NOAA, Geared for kids with info interesting for adults too

“Tails and Tales” Hawaiian Monk Seal Activity Book a gem put out by the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary

Common name: Hawaiian monk seal

Hawaiian name: ‘ilio-holo-i-ka-ua-ua (dog that runs in the rough sea)

Scientific name: Monachus schauinslandi – from Hugh Hermann Schauinsland, a German scientist who discovered the skull of an animal on Laysan Island in 1899.

  • Distribution: Hawaiian Islands
  • Size: 400-600 pounds (180-270 kg), 7-8 feet (2.1-2.4 m) long
  • Diet: bottom-dwelling and reef fish, eel, octopus, squid and crustaceans
  • Average life span: 25-30 years
  • Threats: entanglement in marine debris, disturbance by people, aggression by older males, predation by sharks, disease or injury from dogs, and lack of food

“He appeared suddenly, and paused to look. Our eyes locked. Powerfully built and several times my size, he must have sensed my fear. Or perhaps he heard me bleat through my snorkel. The next instant, the rare Hawaiian monk seal disappeared, back into his underwater cave. I’d just been stared down by one of the rarest marine creatures in the world.”

Hawaiian Monk Seals: Signs of Hope in the Pacific

This rare seal is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, is an important part of Hawaii’s history, and is found nowhere else in the world. The Hawaiian monk seal is in crisis, but growing slowing, around 1600 monk seals remain.  Its primary natural habitat lies in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the most remote part of the Hawaiian chain. They are called “monk” seals because they are solitary — like monks — and the soft folds of fur around their necks look similar to the cowls worn by monks.

Stretching 7 feet (2.13 meters), they can dive to about 1,650 feet (500 m), and remaining submerged as long as 20 minutes. Likely most of their diving is much shallower to feed on reef fish, octopus, and lobster. While they spend most of their time at sea, they come ashore occasionally, notably to give birth.

Hawaiian monk seals naturally spend about a third of their time resting and sleeping on shore. They are not “lazy,” but conserve energy between their hunting and foraging trips. Overall, monk seals don’t react well to human contact — some mothers will abandon their offspring, which helps explain why the survival rate for pups has declined sharply as man has encroached on native habitats.

Large tiger sharks are their main natural predator, and the presence of sharks may be another possible reason for the seals to minimize their time in the water (and maximize their time on the beach).

Wild Side’s wildlife tours focus on education and conservation so that an interactive relationship can be maintained in the best interest of both humans and dolphins. We strive to foster admiration and deep respect for these wonder-full marine mammals.