31 Days of Life in my Hawaii Day 26:: Critters: Monk Seal

Here in the U.S., back when you were in fourth or fifth grade, your social studies curriculum probably had you learning all about your home state.

This would include history, both natural and political, probably subjects like geography and famous people. And of course you’d need to know things like where the state capitol is, and maybe memorize a bunch of other stuff just about your state.

Like all the state symbols.

Along with a state flag and a state song, most states have a state flower, a state bird, a state tree. That’s the minimum. Lots of them have state animals and minerals. From there, states get creative and add things like a state insect (Kentucky: Viceroy Butterfly), a state reptile (California: Desert tortoise), a state nut (Oregon: hazelnut), even a state vegetable (North Carolina: sweet potato).

(You’d be amazed at how many states have milk as their state beverage.)

The state of Hawaii, as you might imagine, has some interesting symbols. Probably the biggest attention-getter, by virtue of its name alone, is our state fish: humuhumunukunukuapua`a. Also, given that we’re surrounded by water, it’s appropriate that we have a state marine mammal: the humpback whale. (California and Alaska also have state marine mammals, and Florida — show-off — has two).

My favorite of all is our state mammal: the Hawaiian monk seal. Its Hawaiian name is `Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua, “dog that runs in the rough water.” Here’s a little profile of this beautiful creature from the Hawaii Wildlife Fund:

The Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi) is the only truly tropical seal in the world and it is critically endangered. There are fewer than 1100 monk seals remaining in the entire Hawaiian Archipelago.

Monk seals are mostly nocturnal feeders with a very diverse diet including eels, octopus, lobsters and fish. They come up onto land to rest, and to give birth and nurse their young. They are very sensitive to human disturbance at their haul-out sites.

Mother monk seals nurse their pups on the beach for approximately 6 weeks and must not be disturbed. Although their total numbers are decreasing every year in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, those monk seals born in the Main Hawaiian Islands are surviving better and need our continued vigilant protection.

So when a monk seal “hauls out” of the ocean — comes up on land to rest or whatever — people get very excited to actually see one up close. Which isn’t something you’re supposed to do; get too close, that is. That’s why you’ll sometimes see beaches that have little sections roped off with what looks like yellow crime scene tape. It’s to make you keep your distance from our beloved state mammal.

Here’s a couple shots of a monk seal who hauled out to rest in Waikiki not too long ago:


This is the twenty-sixth post in my series, 31 Days of Life in my Hawaii. Click here to get the links to the other posts in the series.

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