There are currently three mother seals and three pups on the North Shore of Kauai.
The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the rarest marine mammals in the world. Part of the "true seal" family (Phocidae), they are one of only two remaining monk seal species. The other is the Mediterranean monk seal. A third monk seal species--theCaribbean monk seal--is extinct.
Isolated from their closest relative 15 million years ago, Hawaiian monk seals are considered a "living fossil" because of their distinct evolutionary lineage.
Females generally mature around age 5; it is unknown when males mature. Monk seals are promiscuous and mate underwater. Given male-dominated sex ratios at some breeding colonies, group mobbing of "estrus" females is known to occur, sometimes causing serious injury or even death to the female.
The gestation period is 10-11 months. Birthing rates vary with a range of 30-70% of adult females birthing in a given year. While most births occur in late March and early April, birthing has been recorded year round. Newborns are black, and then molt near the end of their nursing period.
Nursing occurs for about 1 month, during which time the mother fasts and remains on land. After this period, the mother abandons her pup and returns to sea. Although they are generally solitary animals, females have been observed fostering others' offspring. The pup takes its entire nutrition from the mother's milk. As the pup grows larger, themother gets skinnier!
Monk seals are primarily "benthic" foragers, feeding on a variety of prey including fish, cephalopods, and crustaceans. Their diet varies by location, sex, and age. Adults are generally nocturnal hunters while juveniles spend more time hunting species that hide in the sand or under rocks during the day. Monk seals generally hunt for food outside of the immediate shoreline areas in waters 60-300 feet (18-90 m) deep. Monk seals are also known to forage deeper than 1,000 feet (330 m), where they prey on eels and other benthic organisms.
(Photos above by Sheila Heathcote)
NMFS has developed a video, "Good Neighbors: How to Share Hawaii's Beaches with Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals," to enhance understanding of human-seal interactions and the direct impact that has on the population and recovery of the monk seal species: