Posts Tagged ‘Hawaii’

R.I.P. Caribbean monk seal

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

by Hilary L. Maybaum

Did you know? I sure didn’t. But in 2008, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association confirmed what many in the National Marine Fisheries Service already suspected: the Caribbean monk seal (Monachus tropicalis) was extinct. Last seen in 1952, this seal once inhabited the entire Caribbean Sea, from the U.S. Gulf Coast to the northern shores of South America.

historic range map of Caribbean monk seal

Historic range (in red) of the Caribbean monk seal. Created by Peter Maas for The Extinction Website.

Christopher Columbus first discovered the Caribbean monk seal, just two years after discovering America. By the late 1800s, however, the species was already considered rare. According to The Extinction Website,

It [the Caribbean monk seal] appears in the account of Columbus’ second voyage to America. Columbus promptly ordered his crew to kill eight of the animals, which he called "sea-wolves", for food, paving the way for exploitation of the species by European immigrants who came in his wake. Since then, the once abundant seals have been hunted for their oil and slaughtered by fishermen, who regarded the animals as competitors.

It saddens me to think how little has changed. Many local fishers in the Hawaiian Islands consider the Hawaiian monk seal—a close relative of the Caribbean monk seal— as competition, too. The endangered Monachus schauinslandi is an opportunistic feeder, eating a wide variety of fish and shellfish. It’s doubtful that the 100 or so remaining speciesindividuals in Hawaii would have a large impact on the seafood stocks around the Hawaiian Islands. However, their opportunism gets the monk seals into trouble. They are known to "steal" catch and bait from fishers. Year after year, agencies such as the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources attempt to manage public relations on behalf of the seals. And year after year the fishers get angry. Some of them try to get even.

Hawaiian monk seals

Hawaiian monk seal mother and pup. Public domain image from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Digital Library System (

I’ve seen a Hawaiian monk seal mother and pup hauled out on the North Shore of Oahu, and it melts the heart. Let’s hope that our government agencies continue to be empowered to preserve the few remaining specimens for the sake of our future and theirs.

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HIHWNMS – more than a mouthful

Monday, December 21st, 2009

It stands for Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, and it’s a government agency under NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. NOAA is, by the way, one of my all-time favorite government organizations, so don’t put it down, okay?

The sanctuary was established in 1992 to protect humpbies and their habitat in Hawaii. It currently seeks to fill sixteen—16!—seats on their Advisory Council. That’s eight primary seats and eight alternate seats. If I still lived in Hawaii I would definitely apply, but since I’m about 5,000 miles (8,000 km, or 4320 nautical miles) away, I’m going to leave these vacancies to those who are more geographically desirable. If you fit that bill and are interested in advising the HIHWNMS, visit this page immediately.

Applications are due by 31 January 2010.

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