Hawaiian Monk Seals Hawaiian name: ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua, quadruped that runs in the rough seas.
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The monk seal species known as Monachus schauinslandi may have gotten its common name (monk seal) from the fact that its round head covered with short hairs gives it a kind of Friar Tuck appearance or from the fact that it lives a "monk-like" or solitary existence.
The three species of monk seals are widely separated by geographic region: Mediterranean (critically endangered), Caribbean (thought to be extinct) and Hawaiian (endangered). Monk seals, although totally protected, remain one of the most endangered of all seals. It is estimated that fewer than 1500 Hawaiian monk seals exist today. The Hawaiian monk seal was officially designated endangered November 23, 1976 and is protected by the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It is illegal to kill, capture or harass monk seals.
They live 25 to 30 years, with females growing to a length of 7 to 8 feet and weighing 400 to 600 pounds. The males are slightly smaller, maturing at 7 feet, and weighing in at 300 to 400 pounds. A newborn pup weighs around 30 to 40 pounds.
Adults have a brownish coat, youngsters are silvery gray on the back and sides and creamy white on the belly, chest and throat, and pups are born jet black.
Hawaiian monk seals are normally found on the northwestern Hawaiian islands, and occasionally sighted in the main Hawaiian islands. In June 1997, the first birth on Maui was recorded.
The thickness of monk seal blubber is comparable to that of seals living in frigid climates. Monk seals keep cool on hot, windless days by lying on damp sand. Monk seals normally don't stay on dry, hot, upper beach levels except during cool, windy or cloudy weather. Seals are also very inactive when ashore. Their respiration includes long periods of breath-holding, and the heart ratio that accompanies holding their breath is low. These behaviors result in low levels of metabolic heat production and are excellent natural adaptations to heat exposure.
Pregnant females and mothers with nursing young appear greatly upset when approached. These disturbances may cause increased deaths among Hawaiian monk seal pups. Monk seals are solitary, both in the water and onshore. When loose groups form on beaches, they gather because the local environment conditions are favorable. Except for mothers with pups, resting seals avoid bodily contact with each other.
Monk seals can dive to at least 500 feet. The seals remain underwater for as long as 20 minutes while foraging for food. They feed on spiny lobster, eels, flatfish, small reef fish, and octopus. Monk seals may eat as much as ten percent of their body weight in a day. They sometimes spend many days at sea before returning to the islands where they sleep and digest their food.