The Hawaiian monk seal, also popular as ‘ilio holo I ka uaua’, is an endangered species of earless seal, native to Hawaii. Known for its plump figure and lounging attitude, they belong to the family Phocidae, named so for its lack of external ears and inability to turn around its hind flippers under the body. Hawaiian monk seals are mostly seen basking on the sandy beaches of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. Read on to know more about this Hawaiian mammal!
Species: N. schauinslandi
Check with the physical traits of the Hawaiian monk seal mentioned below:-
Body – Hawaiian monk seals have streamline bodies featuring large hind flippers and smaller front flippers. They use their hind flippers to push themselves along. Their front flippers act as rudders. Their slender and torpedo-shaped body, makes them look different from their cousin, harbor seal. It is also because of their physical structure that they are often called as ‘Ilio holo I ka uaua, which means, “dog that runs in rough water”.
Color – Adults are basically dark grey to brown on their back and light grey to yellowish brown on their belly part. Pups are black in texture and they look really adorable.
Head – Their heads are broad, flat, and relatively small in size. Featuring smooth vibrissae on each side with nostrils on top of the snout, monk seals have eight pairs of teeth in both upper and lower jaw.
The majority of their population is found on the North-Western Hawaiian Islands. They are the only marine mammal found solely in US waters. Besides, they are also seen around Kaua’i, Ni’ihau, and French Frigate Shoals.
As per archaeological and historical data, the Hawaiian Islands have been home to these mammals for millions of years.
Monk seals prefer spending most of their time underwater, especially in sub-tropical waters of reefs and surrounding islands. Apart from foraging in deeper water, monk seals breed and bask on the sand, corals, and volcanic rocks. Pups are usually found resting on sandy beaches.
When it comes to food, there is quite a bit of selection in the Hawaiian Islands. Monk seals are fond of eating fish, lobster, octopus, and eels. They also prey on bony fish, cephalopods, and crustaceans.
Both juvenile and adult seals prey on octopus species. Finding food underwater is not at all a difficult task for these mammals. Unless there have been tropical storms, there is plenty of food available for these seals. Because of foraging plasticity, they are known to be opportunistic predators, which means they feed on a variety of available prey.
Though quiet in nature, Hawaiian monks chance upon a wide range of predators like tiger sharks, great white sharks, and Galapagos sharks.
The entire species of Hawaiian seal monks adapt themselves very well to the environment.
They use the ocean temperature to keep themselves cold and make use of the warm weather and sand to warm up during a long nap.
These mammals usually mate with each other during the spring and summer season. The female monk seals achieve sexual maturity at the tender age of 5 and 6 years. Basically polygamous by nature, male monks have the tendency to mate with more than one female at a time.
Hawaiian monk seals are aggressive in nature and they indulge in violent sexual activities with their partners. They are born within a year of mating. Pups are born on beaches and are taken care of by the mother seals for about five to six weeks. Female seals are been observed to foster the offspring of similar species.
The life expectancy of these mammals is somewhere between 25-30 years.
Here we bring some interesting facts about the Hawaiian monk seal. Take a look;
Monk seals have the amazing ability to reduce their heartbeat to as low as 4 to 15 beats per minute. This condition is known as Bradycardia
Some of the infectious diseases that may cause harm to the Hawaiian monk seal are distemper viruses, West Nile virus, and Toxoplasma gondii. The effects of these diseases could be disastrous.
Factors threatening these mammals include low juvenile survival rate, growing male aggression, and skewed gender ratios. Human hunting is also considered for being a reason for their drastic fall in survival rate.
According to the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Hawaiian monk seals are declared as the most endangered species in US water. Organizations are putting in extra effort to conserve these species. There have emerged many federal agencies in order to promote the conservation of endangered seals and also their efficient management. NOAA Fisheries and partners are also executing several means and measures to recuperate the loss of these mammals. As per reports, all these initiatives have proved to be beneficial.
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