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Hawaiian Monk Seal
Hawaiian name: `Ilio holo kai meaning “dog that runs in the sea.”
The Hawaiian Monk Seal is Hawaii’s living fossil, who has not changed for 15 million years. They are endemic of Hawaii. Named possibly for their preference of solitude and loose skin around their neck resembling the hood on a monk’s robe.
Looking into a monk seal’s eyes wins and delights numerous hearts along their path. Many a person has been captivated into helping save this endangered species.
Hawaiian Monk Seal breeding populations occur on remote atolls (remains of ancient islands) that lay hundreds of miles northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands. A population estimated at thirteen hundred animals live within the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge which is also the prime nesting location of the Green Sea Turtle and for millions of seabirds. Wildlife management provided by National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service may be considered the key to survival of these species in Hawaii.
Adult Monk Seals are approximately seven feet long with an average weight of 450-500 pounds and become sexually mature at four to eight years old. They eat lobster, eel, octopus, and reef fish. A pregnant female may weigh as much as 600 pounds or more. The new born pup weighs around 35 pounds but gains three to four pounds a day from its mother’s rich milk. The mother will not eat for the six weeks she is nursing and will lose about half of her pre-birthing weight. To wean her pup, she will simply head for the ocean to replenish her own fat stores and will have nothing more to do with her pup.
The pup at first is fine with its excess weight, spending many days playing with other weaned pups and sleeping a lot. When it realizes it needs food, a menu of sea cucumbers appears to fill these first days of hunting until the pup’s fishing skills improve.
Hopefully this photograph and information have given you a glimpse into the unique life of the Monk Seal. Perhaps by a Monk Seal’s eyes you too shall be captivated with a new endearment in your heart.
© 1996 Victoria McCormick
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