Hawaiian Monk Seal Habitat

In this exhibit

Hawaiian Monk Seal


While the Aquarium renovates and repairs the Hawaiian Monk Seal exhibit, resident seal
Ho‘ailona has temporarily transferred to a research program in California. During his time away, he will be part of a behavioral study of monk seals which will contribute towards conservation efforts for this endangered species in the wild.

Marine mammal scientists at the University of California Santa Cruz will continue and expand efforts
to study the unique physiology and sensory biology of endangered Hawaiian monk seals by partnering
with Hawaiian zoological facilities. Specialized research programs and marine mammal facilities available at UCSC’s Long Marine Laboratory have enabled several important studies to be completed with the species since 2009. These studies support conservation efforts for wild monk seals by providing relevant biological data from non-releasable male monk seals trained to cooperate in scientific sampling. Such information is often difficult or impossible to gather from free-ranging seals. Measurements are obtained by animal care specialists without harm to seals, and research activities are monitored by an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

KP2 previously spent several years at Long Marine Laboratory participating in cooperative
research. His planned sabbatical will allow scientists to support ongoing studies of auditory biology
and provide insight into how monk seal metabolism changes throughout development.

The Hawaiian monk seal and visitors to Hawaii have something in common. Both are active in the morning and evening, but the rest of the day may be spent lounging on Hawaii’s beaches. For the Hawaiian monk seal, this activity pattern may be an important adaptation for survival, allowing them to conserve energy between hunting and foraging trips.

This endangered seal is found only in the Hawaiian Islands. Its primary habitat lies in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands – a chain of uninhabited islands extending over 1,200 miles (2,000 km) northwest from Kauai to Midway Island and Kure atoll.

The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the most critically endangered seal species in the world. Intense conservation efforts by the National Marine Fisheries Service have helped to stabilize the population, but even so, it continues to decline and only about 1,200 animals remain.

Hawaiian monk seals have been known to dive to depths of 500 meters (1,667 feet) or more, but most of their diving is probably much shallower. When hunting, they may stay underwater for up to 20 minutes or more. They have a varied diet that includes octopus, lobster, and reef fish (including eels).

Monk seals are not highly social animals and spend much of their time alone or spread apart on available beaches. They may live up to 30 years and reach lengths of 8 feet (2.4 m). Weights range from 400-600 pounds (182-273 kg). Most pups are born around April and May and weigh up to 35 pounds (16 kg).

Tiger sharks and Galapagos sharks are the main predators of Hawaiian monk seals. In recent years, deaths have also been attributed to entanglement in marine debris.

The Waikīkī Aquarium houses two male Hawaiian monk seals, Maka onaona and Ho‘ailona. Both of these seals were rescued as pups and have spent most of their life at Waikīkī Aquarium. Neither would be able to survive in the wild, instead they serve as ambassadors for their critically endangered species.