Insist on protecting the Hawaiian Monk Seal
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A Hawaiian monk seal observed on the North Shore of Oahu, near Waimea Bay.
Most seals are found on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
The Hawaiian monk seal is endangered, although its cousin species the Mediterranean monk seal (M. monachus) is even rarer, and the Caribbean monk seal (M. tropicalis), last sighted in the 1950s, was officially declared extinct in June 2008. The total population of Hawaiian monk seals is in decline - the larger population that inhabits the northwest islands is declining while the smaller population on the main Hawaiian Islands is increasing. In 2010, it was estimated that only 1100 individuals remained.
Seals nearly disappeared from the main Hawaiian Islands, but the population has begun to recover. The growing population there was approximately 150 as of 2004. Individuals have been sighted in surf breaks and on beaches in Kauaʻi, Niʻihau and Maui. Community volunteers on Oʻahu have made many anecdotal blog reports of sightings around the island since 2008. In early June 2010, two seals hauled out on Oʻahu's popular Waikiki beach. Seals have hauled out at O'ahu's Turtle Bay, and again beached at Waikiki on March 4,
, by the Moana Hotel. Yet another adult came ashore for a rest next to the breakwater in Kapiolani Park Waikiki on the morning of 11 December 2012, after first being spotted traveling west along the reef break from the Aquarium side of the Park. In 2006, twelve pups were born in the main Hawaiian Islands, rising to thirteen in 2007, and eighteen in 2008. As of 2008 43 pups had been counted in the main Hawaiian islands. Since 2012 and possibly earlier, there have been many anecdotal reports of monk seals hauling out on O'ahu's Kaena Point.
The Hawaiian monk seal was officially designated as an endangered species on November 23, 1976, and is now protected by the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It is illegal to kill, capture or harass a Hawaiian monk seal. Even with these protections, human activity along Hawaii's fragile coastlines (and in the world at large) still provides many stressors.
Hawaiian monk seal
Natural factors threatening the Hawaiian monk seal include low juvenile survival rates, reduction of habitat/prey associated with environmental changes, increased male aggression, and subsequent skewed gender ratios. Anthropogenic or human impacts include hunting (during the 1800s and 1900s) and the resulting small gene pool, continuing human disturbance, entanglement in marine debris, and fishery interactions.
Low juvenile survival rates continue to threaten the species. High juvenile mortality is due to starvation and marine debris entanglement. Another contributor to the low juvenile survival rates is the predation from sharks, including tiger sharks. Most mature monk seals bear scars from shark encounters—many such attacks have been observed.
Reduced prey abundance can lead to starvation. A reduction in habitat associated with environmental changes is one cause. Habitat is shrinking due to erosion in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, reducing the islands/beaches. Lobsters, the seals' preferred food other than fish, have been overfished. Competition from other apex predators such as sharks, jacks
leaves little for developing pups. The creation of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument which encloses these islands may expand food supplies.
Mobbing is a practice among the seals that involves multiple males attacking one female in mating attempts. Mobbing is responsible for many deaths especially to females.
Mobbing leaves the targeted individual with wounds that increase vulnerability to septicemia, killing the victim via infection. Smaller populations were more likely to experience mobbing as a result of the higher male/female ratio and male aggression. Unbalanced sex-ratios were more likely to occur in slow-growing populations.
In the nineteenth century, large numbers of seals were killed by whalers and sealers for meat, oil and skin. U.S. military forces hunted them during World War II, while occupying Laysan Island and Midway.
The Hawaiian monk seal has the lowest level of genetic variability among the 18 pinniped species. This low genetic variability was allegedly due to a population bottleneck caused by intense hunting in the 19th century. This limited genetic variability reduces the species ability to adapt to environmental pressures and limits natural selection thus increasing their risk of extinction. Given the monk seal's small population, the effects of disease could be disastrous.
Monk seals can be affected by the toxoplasmosis pathogen in cat feces that enters the ocean in polluted runoff and wastewater, a new phenomenon. Over the past ten years, toxoplasmosis killed at least four seals. Other human-introduced pathogens, including leptospirosis, have infected monk seals.
Human disturbances have had immense effects on the populations of the Hawaiian monk seal. Monk seals tend to avoid beaches where they are disturbed; after continual disturbance the seal may completely abandon the beach, thus reducing its habitat size, subsequently limiting population growth. For instance, large beach crowds and beach structures limit the seal’s habitat. Although the WWII military bases in the northwestern islands were closed, minimal human activities can be enough to disturb the species.
Marine fisheries can potentially interact with monk seals via direct and indirect relationships. Directly the seal can become snared by fishing equipment, entangled in discarded debris, and even feed on fish refuse.
Entanglement can result in mortality because the seals get trapped in marine debris such as fishing nets and cannot maneuver or even reach the surface to breathe. International law prohibits the intentional discarding of debris from ships at sea. Monk seals have one of the highest documented rates of entanglement of any pinniped species.
n 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt created the Hawaiian Islands Reservation that included the Northwest Hawaiian islands. The Reservation later became the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge (HINWR) and moved under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service(USFWS). Throughout the 1980s, the National Marine Fisheries Service completed various versions of an Environmental Impact Statement that designated the Northwest Hawaiian Islands as a critical habitat for the Hawaiian monk seal. The designation prohibited lobster fishing in waters less than 10 fathoms in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands and within 20 nautical miles of Laysan Island. The National Marine Fisheries Service designated all beach areas, lagoon waters, and ocean waters out to a depth of 10 fathoms (later 20 fathoms) around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, except for one of the Midway group, Sand Island. In 2006, a Presidential Proclamation established the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, which incorporated the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, and the Battle of Midway National Memorial, thus creating the largest marine protected area in the world and affording the Hawaiian monk seal further protection.
NOAA cultivated a network of volunteers to protect the seals while they bask or bear and nurse their young. NOAA is funding considerable research on seal population dynamics and health in conjunction with the Marine Mammal Center.
From NOAA, several programs and networks were formed in order monk seal. Community programs such as PIRO have helped to improve community standards for the Hawaiian monk seal. The program also creates networks with the Native Hawaiians on the island to network more people in the fight for conservation of the seals. The Marine Mammal Response Network (MMRN) is partnered with NOAA and several other government agencies that deal with land and marine wildlife.
The Recovery Plan for the Hawaiian Monk Seal identifies public outreach and educati
The Recovery Plan for the Hawaiian Monk Seal identifies public outreach and education as a key action for promoting the conservation of the Hawaiian monk seal and its habitat.
To raise awareness of the species' plight, on June 11, 2008, a state law designated the Hawaiian monk seal as Hawaii's official State Mammal .
The task is to identify a manner of alleviation that is possible, cost-effective, and likely to maximize the organic return (in terms of growth potential) until much time has passed and natural conditions allow scientists to observe the effects. .
Protecting female pups
One key natural factor affecting the seal populations is the male-biased sex-ratio, which results in increased aggressive behaviors such as mobbing. These aggressive behaviors decrease the number of females in the population. Two programs effectively aid female survival rates.
Project “Headstart” began in 1981, collected and tagged female pups after weaning, and placed them in a large, enclosed water and beach area with food and lacking disturbances. The female pups remain during the summer months, leaving at roughly age three to seven months.
Another project began in 1984 at French Frigate Shoals. It collected severely underweight female pups, placed them in protective care and fed them. The pups were released as yearlings and relocated to the Kure Atoll.
Some habitats are better suited to increase survival probability making relocation a popular and promising method. Although no direct links between infectious diseases and seal mortality rates have been found, unidentified infectious diseases could prove detrimental to relocation strategies. Identification and mitigation of these and other possible factors (e.g., disease) limiting population growth represent ongoing challenges and are the primary objectives of the Hawaiian monk seal conservation and recovery effort.
It is also important to consider the mothers who nurse their (female and male) pups. Seal milk is very rich in nutrients which also allows pups to gain weight rapidly. With the rich milk from the mother the pup is more prone to quadruple their initial weight before weaning. The mother seal also loses a tremendous amount of weight while nursing.
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