A decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to define areas around the main Hawaiian islands for the protection of the Hawaiian Monk Seal has been delayed for 6 months to permit public comments. The delay was self imposed by the agency who will be responsible for designating area around Hawaii’s most populated islands for Seal protection. They have promised a decision no later than December 2, 2012.
The push by environmental groups to create protected areas for the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal has been a unifying mission. One of the rarest mammals in the world with an estimated population of just 1300 individuals.Recent attacks against Seals has reinforced the need to identify habitat where Seals can rebuild their populations. Experts cite data that shows an annual population decline of 4% in waters surrounding the main islands.
This decline is attributed to a number of factors. Over fishing has reduced food sources, Monk Seals love fish, lobster and other shell fish that inhabit coral reefs. Climate change is an important factor too.
Of note is the population imbalance identified by researchers a few years ago. Larger populations of males surrounding the main Hawaiian Islands has increased mortality levels in unprotected pups and juvenile females. Most likely due to competition for a limited number of mating females. This phenomenon has not been observed in our remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands such as Kure Atoll, French Frigate Islands and the Midway Islands. Where male / female ratios are more balanced.
To counter this population skew the NMFS has relocated juvenile females to the main islands in an effort to reflect male / female ratios in areas not impacted by human population pressure.
We feel that the NMFS will increase protected area habitat for the Hawaiian Monk Seals in December. This will be a victory for all. Not everyone will be pleased, of this I am certain. The main opposition to a protected area increase are commercial fisherman who are finding it more difficult to earn a living. Their argument has been that the Hawaiian Monk Seal was never in waters surrounding the main island and not until the 1960′s did the NMFS begin relocating.
However this hypothesis is not supported by the fact that fossilized remains of Seals have been identified in the main Hawaiian islands. The Hawaiians called the seals Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua or ‘The dog that runs in rough seas’.
If you come across a resting Hawaiian Monk Seal, please do not disturb. They need this quiet time to rest and digest their meal. Please maintain a distance of 50 yards and observe with a telephoto lens or with binoculars.