HAWAI­IAN MONK SEAL

Scuba Diver Australasia + Ocean Planet - - Inspirational Images Of 25 Ocean Species Under Thr - Text & Pho­tos by Brandi Mueller

Found only in Hawaii, the Hawai­ian monk seal is an en­dan­gered mam­mal pro­tected by law in the United States. Only two species of monk seal re­main, the other be­ing the en­dan­gered Mediter­ranean monk seal. A third species, the Caribbean monk seal, was con­firmed ex­tinct in 2008. The pop­u­la­tion of Hawai­ian monk seals is es­ti­mated at around 1,400, and as hu­mans con­tinue to pop­u­late the is­lands, they are threat­ened by habi­tat loss, ma­rine pol­lu­tion, en­tan­gle­ment in fish­ing nets, low ge­netic vari­a­tion be­cause of their small pop­u­la­tion, and dis­eases such as tox­o­plas­mo­sis and lep­tospiro­sis. The pop­u­la­tion was re­duced con­sid­er­ably by hunt­ing in the 1800s and 1900s.

For­tu­nately, the es­tab­lish­ment of the Pa­pahā­naumokuākea Ma­rine Na­tional Mon­u­ment pro­tects part of their habi­tat, and an­i­mals found in the North­west­ern Hawai­ian Is­lands can­not be dis­turbed with­out le­gal con­se­quences. While Hawai­ian monk seals could show up on any dive in Hawaii, one of your best bets to see them is to dive around the is­lands of Ni’ihau and Le­hua Rock, where divers are of­ten lucky to get a glimpse of these en­dan­gered seals on the sur­face and some­times un­der­wa­ter. For me, hav­ing lived in Hawaii for sev­eral years, spot­ting one was al­ways a very ex­cit­ing mo­ment both un­der­wa­ter and while hik­ing around the is­lands.

LEFT: Whether bask­ing in the sun or glid­ing through the water, Hawaii’s na­tive monk seal is a joy to pho­to­graph by: Brandi MuellerWHENNo­vem­ber 2010WHEREKa’ena Point, O’ahu, Hawaii, USAHOW Nikon D90, 18–105mm lens (f/5.6, 1/4000s, ISO 1250)

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