‘Honey Girl’ the Hawaiian Monk Seal: the Protection of an Endangered Species

Honey Girl is a popular 15-year-old Hawaiian monk seal who frequents the North Shore of Oahu. She has been a good mother to at least seven pups and has raised three pups consecutively in the last three years. See footage of Honey Girl with her most recent pup here.

Honey Girl in the News

Honey Girl with a fishing hook in her mouth. Source: NOAA

Honey Girl was in the news this past week. She was reported on November 14th to have been sighted 24 hours earlier with a fishing hook in her mouth. It took several days, but she was located and captured on November 17th at Sunset beach on the North Shore of Oahu. She was severely emaciated, covered in algae, and had extensive swelling in and around her mouth and a fish hook lodged in her cheek.

Honey Girl underwent reconstructive surgery in which veterinarians removed about a third of her tongue. She currently resides at the Honolulu Aquarium where she is rehabilitating. She  is doing well and should be released once she makes a full recovery.

Honey Girl found emaciated on Sunset Beach. Source: NOAA

This is not the first time a Hawaiian monk seal has been found in this predicament, in fact, over the past decade National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has responded to 84 hooking related incidents, 14 of which  occurred this year alone! This is a serious threat to the survival of the Hawaiian monk seal, which is a critically endangered species with only about 1,100 individuals left.

A Little Information about the Hawaiian Monk Seal

The Hawaiian monk seal population has declined over 60% in the last 50 years and their population size continues to decrease at a rate of 4.1% every year. In addition to this overall population decline, the survival rate of pups is less than 15%.

The declines in the Hawaiian monk seal population are not solely due to human interactions or entanglement in fishing gear, but also predation by sharks and declines in food sources.

Healthy Hawaiian Monk Seals. Source: NOAA

Although the overall population and the population in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are both declining, the population in the Main Hawaiian Islands is increasing! Although this is great news, it also means that human interactions with the Hawaiian monk seal will likely increase. The Hawaiian community as a result must become more aware of their neighbors in the sea. Both NOAA and the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) are strongly urging the local community to keep the Hawaiian monk seal and Marine Mammal hotline (1-888-256-9840) handy. They also advise people to review their guidelines to help fishers avoid seal hookings and entanglements, and reduce fishing gear and bait loss. They also stress the importance of immediately reporting any sightings of monk seals that have been hooked, look malnourished or injured, as well as any human-monk seal interactions. Immediate reporting allows NOAA and DLNR to respond quickly and increases the likelihood of survival.

Marine Conservation Institute Working to Protect the Hawaiian Monk Seal

Marine Conservation Institute advocates for the protection of the Hawaiian monk seal by ensuring adequate federal funding for the recovery of the seal and by building partnerships between the public and federal and state agencies. Marine Conservation Institute is also working on the ground in Hawaii to raise awareness of the plight of the Hawaiian monk seal with local communities, public officials, and tourists.

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