HAWAIIAN MONK SEAL
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)