Hawaiian monk seals are the official state mammal, and one of visitors’ favorite sights here on Kauai.
Monk seals, being the only earless seals found in tropical climates, are of the Monachini tribe and are of two genera, Monachus and Neomonachus. They also comprise of three species: the Mediterranean monk seal, Monachus monachus; the Hawaiian monk seal, Neomonachus schauinslandi; and the Caribbean monk seal, Neomonachus tropicalis, which in the 20th century became extinct. The only two surviving species have become rare andhave a high probability of becoming extinct too.
Only about 1,200 Hawaiian monk seals are left and many swim in the waters of Kauai. Of recent, however, monk seals have been found on all of the main islands. Although they are fairly large, monk seals are very nimble; they have a wide snout with their nostrils on the top. Monk seals feed mainly on bony fish and cephalopods, and their opportunistic nature have made them very unpopular with local fishermen.
Where to See Monk Seals on Kauai
For several years, the most likely places where you might find a Hawaiian monk seal were on the island of Kauai. Frequently, they are found relaxing on Poipu Beach and on the small beaches along the Na Pali Coast. Poipu Beach on the south shore of Kauai was once named America’s best beach and is one of the most popular and safest beaches on the island for visitors.
The inviting waters of Poipu have made it popular with visitors, locals and even local marine life – it’s not unusual to spot humpback whales spouting offshore. Hawaiian green sea turtles swim in these waters but even at that, Poipu Beach is most famous for the endangered Hawaiian monk seals that frequently sunbathe on the shore. Late afternoon and early evenings are especially popular.
Safety Tips on Viewing Monk Seals
There are just about 1,200 Hawaiian monk seals left in the world, so seizing the opportunity to see one is a sight to always remember. However, monk seals are highly endangered. If they are harassed or disturbed when they come ashore to rest, they could return to sea even if exhausted, putting them at risk of death by predators (sharks). Keep these tips in mind:
- Give the seals space: Monk seals that have come to shore will typically be surrounded by rope perimeters or signs. Visitors should always ensure they stay behind barricades and signs or at least 150-feet from these 400 to 600-pound endangered animals when in an unmarked area. A nursing mother can and has become more aggressive towards people. Hence, extra space should be given to the nursing mothers.
- Never feed: It’s best for the seals to grow up naturally without human influence. Visitors should never attempt to feed the monk seals.
- Swim at a safe distance: Occasionally, seals will be found swimming in shallow waters before they come ashore. You should swim at a very safe distance or immediately, yet cautiously, get out of the water should you encounter a seal while swimming.
- Report sightings: To report a sighting, call NOAA Fisheries Monk Seal Hotline (808) 651-7668 or email PIFSC.email@example.com. If you see an injured or entangled animal, do not approach it, instead call 888-256-9840.
- Volunteer to help the seals: If you enjoy the sun, the beach and Hawaiian monk seals, and you are willing to periodically donate a few hours of your time to post signs and interact with curious onlookers, the Kauai Monk Seal Conservation Hui is always looking for volunteers. For more info call 808-651-7668.
Have you seen a Hawaiian monk seal during your visit to Kauai?