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Click the image to watch a short film about Hawaiians and monk seals.  The film was taken at Midway island and Keawanui, Moloka'i.  Non-profit organizations throughout Hawai'i supported its production.

Mo'o ku'auhao (Genealogy):
Scientists estimate that monk seals have lived in Hawai'i for 10-15 million years (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). They are the planet's "kupuna" seal species, the oldest of their kind.

The Hawaiian monk seals, which can live only in warm waters, originated in the Mediterranean, migrated West to the Caribbean, and then moved on to Hawai'i.  Scientists believe the Hawaiian seals became their very own species after the isthmus of Panama formed and cut off their access to the Atlantic Ocean millions of years ago.  Monk seals actually arrived here even before the Big Island emerged from the ocean!

The Caribbean monk seal went extinct in the 1950's, due to many of the same pressures that face the Hawaiian monk seal today.  It was the first seal species to be driven to extinction by humans.  There are still a few hundred Mediterranean monk seals left, but they, too, may not survive much longer. Their species was noble enough to be immortalized on the very first ancient Greek coins.  But 2,500 years of regional wars, hunting, and intentional killings by Mediterranean fishermen have driven them to the brink of extinction.  And their Hawaiian cousins are not far behind.


Hawaiian Monk Seals: Facts and Figures:

  • There are only 1,000 monk seals left in the whole world.
  • The total number of monk seals is dropping each year. 60 more seals were lost in 2010.
  • Monk seals came to Hawai'i over 10 million years ago.
  • Monk seals are the oldest species of seal on the planet.
  • Monk seals are named in verse 555 of the Kumulipo. They are called ‘iole holo ka uaua (the "rat" that runs with the waves).
  • The Kumulipo links the seals with rats because they are "nibblers." They do not eat bigger fish.
  • Scientists have now proved what the Kumulipo says.  They discovered that monk seals have a low metabolism, so they eat much less than other animals their size.
  • Hawaiian monk seals can only survive in Hawai'i's temperature range.
  • Most monk seals lived in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands until recently.
  • Since the 1970’s, more have been migrating to the main Hawaiian Islands.
  • They are coming to the main islands because they are starving in the NW Hawaiian Islands.
  • Commercial fishing operations wiped out most of the seal’s food in the 1900’s.
  • Example: 11 million lobsters were taken from the NW Hawaiian Islands from 1970–1999.
  • Today, the lobsters are not coming back, so the seals have no food.
  • We humans ruined the seals' environment, so now they are looking for a place to survive.  And that is why they are migrating to the main Hawaiian Islands.


  • The Hawaiian Monk Seals are mentioned in mele (songs), oli (chants), mo‘olelo (oral traditions), and other traditional knowledge forms. One such source is the Kumulipo, a detailed chant that chronicles the creation story, genealogy and mythology of ancient Hawai'i. Monk seals are named in verse 555 of The Kumulipo.  The Kumulipo calls the seals ‘iole holo ka uaua.
  • Hunting and overfishing devastated the monk seal population throughout the 1800's and 1900's, after Westerners discovered Hawai'i.