Sunday, August 7, 2011

Life of Hawaiian Monk Seal

Life of Sea | Hawaiian Monk Seal (Monachus schauinslandi) | Hawaiian monk seals are one of the rarest mammals in the world. They are included as endangered earless seal. In native Hawaiian this seal is known as Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua or "dog that runs in rough water". Hawaiian monk seals can be found mainly around the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. A small and growing population can also be found on the main Hawaiian Islands.  Hawaiian monk seals inhabit reefs, shallow lagoons, open ocean and beaches. These seals spend two-thirds of their time at sea, and one-third on the sandy beaches.

Hawaiian monk seals  have grey coat, white belly, and slender body. This distinguish them from their cousin, the Harbor seal. Hawaiian monk seals have a relatively small, flat head with large black eyes, eight pairs of teeth, and short snouts with the nostril on top of the snout and vibrissae on each side. The nostrils are small vertical slits which close when the seal dives underwater. Additionally, their slender, torpedo-shaped body and hind flippers allow them to be very agile swimmers.
Their hair are generally dark gray on the dorsal side and lighter silver ventrally, gradually changes color through the year with exposure to atmospheric conditions. Sunlight and seawater cause the dark gray to become brown and the light silver to become yellow-brown, while long periods of time spent in the water can also promote algae growth, giving many seals a green tinge. The juvenile coat of the monk seal, manifest in a molt by the time a pup is weaned is silver-gray; pups are born with black pelage. Many Hawaiian monk seals sport scars from shark attacks or entanglements with fishing gear. Maximum life expectancy is 25 to 30 years.

Hawaiian monk seals are amazing swimmers. They are able to move around very easily in the water. They also have great vision so they have no trouble at all finding the food they are interested in. Some of their favorites include fish, lobster, eels, and even octopus. They are very quiet types of seals unless it is breeding season. During that period of time they will gather and then afterward go back to their solitary lifestyles. The fact that this species of seal prefers to live alone or with a few others is part of how it got the “monk” part of its name. They seem to be enjoying the sunny beaches just as much as the tourists. They are often found basking in the warm tropical sun during the daylight hours. Then they hunt for food at night.

Hawaiian monk seals use sandy beaches for resting, molting, mating, and rearing young. Infant pups cannot swim, so they need to spend time on shore until they are big and strong enough to enter the ocean. The threat of sea level rising due to global warming would reduce or even eliminate the available Hawaiian beaches on which these seals depend. Monk seals also depend on patterns of ocean productivity to support their foraging. Other threats to Hawaiian monk seals include human encroachment, shark predation, entanglement in fishing nets and longlines and marine debris, disease and commercial hunting for skins.

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