June 20, 2024

Recovery of the Hawaiian Monk Seal (Monachus schauinslandi): A Review of Conservation Efforts, 1972 to 2010, and Thoughts for the Future


Lloyd F. Lowry, David W. Laist, William G. Gilmartin, and George A. Antonelis


Abstract: The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the world’s rarest marine mammal species and is listed as depleted, endangered, and critically endangered based on national and international criteria. Although its precarious status was already recognized by the 1950s, it was not until the 1970s that direct protection was afforded to monk seals by U.S. legislation. Many important actions were taken to try and recover the population during the following four decades, including developing a population monitoring program; controlling impacts of military facilities in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI); managing fisheries to reduce their impacts; removing marine debris; and responding to other issues, including die-offs, inadequate nutrition, aggression by male seals, and shark predation. Recently, monk seals have reoccupied the main Hawaiian Islands (MHI). While this may be good news for their recovery, the MHI are well-populated by humans and significant management issues have appeared as seal numbers have increased. In spite of all that has been done, Hawaiian monk seals are likely to go extinct unless current conditions change. At this time, the most crucial needs for the recovery are (1) maintaining an adequate research and management program throughout the Hawaiian Archipelago; (2) continuing to minimize all sources of mortality; (3) promoting an increase in the number of monk seals in the MHI; (4) considering bold actions that could create more favorable conditions for seals in the NWHI; (5) ensuring that bureaucratic requirements and processes do not impede recovery actions; and (6) designing, funding, and implementing a set of actions that will stop the Hawaiian monk seal’s decline toward extinction and recover the population sufficiently so that it can be removed from the Endangered Species Act’s list of endangered species.

Key Words: Hawaiian monk seal, Monachus schauinslandi, Endangered Species Act, extinction, recovery, marine mammal conservation, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, main Hawaiian Islands

Document Type: Research article

DOI: 10.1578/AM.37.3.2011.397

Page Numbers: 397-419

Info SKU: Vol__37__Iss__3__Lowry Category: