Eat, sleep, and hang out on the beach. Sounds like a pretty great life, right? While many seals choose to live in frigid temperatures at the far northern and southern latitudes of our planet, one species has decided to forego on all that snow and ice for a much warmer climate. Hawaiian monk seals (Monachus schauinslandi) are the world’s only surviving tropical seals and are endemic to Hawaii – meaning they are found nowhere else in the world. These seals and their ancestors are believed to have been living among the coral atolls and ocean waters in this region for millions of years.
Unfortunately, this long run may be coming to an end, unless we can do something quickly. The Hawaiian monk seal is unique for another reason – it happens to be one of the most endangered marine mammals on the planet. The population has declined by more than 60% within the last 50 years and there are currently around only 1,000 animals left. There are numerous reasons for this decline, but a big part of it has to do with the fact that juvenile seals are having a tough time surviving to adulthood. They face a whole host of threats including malnutrition, disease outbreaks, shark attacks, and the ever-present risk of becoming entangled and drowning in marine debris such as discarded fishing nets. Not exactly a relaxing day at the beach!
The good news is that the monk seal may soon be getting a boost in the survival department. Recognizing that the seal uses much more of the ocean to forage for food than was previously thought, NOAA has proposed expanding the amount of federal critical habitat designated for the seal throughout the main and Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Among other things, this would grant the seal additional protection and require the federal government to consider whether its actions could potentially harm the seal’s habitat in the islands.
This is just one of many steps that we will need to take in order to save this iconic species. If you care about protecting our nation’s unique and special wildlife for generations to come, don’t be afraid to tell NOAA you support actions like this. You can send your comments to NOAA via this website any time up until August 31, 2011. You can also click here to find out more about the monk seal and what Marine Conservation Institute does to protect this amazing species.