Researchers Hope to Change the Way Hawaiian Monk Seals Are Perceived

Written by on August 20, 2013 in Marine Life, Seals, Sea Lions & Sea Otters
Hawaiian Monk Seal swimming in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

Hawaiian Monk Seal swimming in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Photo credit: NOAA.

Hawaiian monk seals (Monachus schauinslandi) are native to the Hawaiian Islands. Once abundant, they are now one of the most endangered animal species in the world after being hunted to the brink of extinction in the late 19th century. There are only about 1,100 individuals left and the population is still declining.

Lately, they have returned to the populated islands of Hawaii but not everybody is happy about it. In fact, some people are so mad that the monk seals have returned that they are willing to kill this endangered creature.

Researchers have found monk seals stoned, clubbed and even shot to death. But what for?

Many fishermen believe that the seals are stealing their fish–some even say that monk seals can eat 600 pounds of fish a day. If this was true, perhaps there would be something to worry about, but Charles Littnan, lead scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hawaiian monk seal research program in Honolulu says that’s just not true.

But not many people are willing to believe him based on facts alone. That’s why he began a new project to dispel some of the myths associated with Hawaiian monk seals. Littnan attached National Geographic Crittercams to the backs of the seals to record their every movement and show exactly how many fish they consume.

“Our intent is not to make people love seals,” he said in a National Geographic video. “What we’re trying to do is get the truth out there.”

“We knew if we could show the truth through the seals perspective…we could change people’s minds.”

Seeing is believing, which is why the footage isn’t just kept in the research lab; it is also given to the local kids. The researchers make a copy of every recording, from start to finish, and one is sent off to middle and high school kids so they can see with their own eyes that monk seals aren’t decimating fish populations.

Watch the following video from National Geographic to learn more about the project and Littnan’s efforts to spread the truth:

To learn more:

Hawaiian monk seal mother and pup.

Hawaiian monk seal mother and pup. Photo credit: NOAA.

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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  1. Kelly Smithons says:

    When exactly did this research start? I’m doing a report and would like to know.

  2. Emily says:

    Researchers returned to Hawaii to monitor the seals for the summer on July 3rd. Good luck with your report!