Rare Hawaiian Monk Seal Birth Caught on Camera

An employee of the State’s Department of Land and Natural Resources captured a magic moment- video of a rare Hawaiian monk seal pup emerging from the mother onto a sandy beach in Hawaii.

“As soon as its (amniotic) sac burst, the little one starting wiggling around,” said DNLR’s Lesley Macpherson. The mother monk seal checked on her pup by barking as the newborn flapped its flippers.

The birth of a monk seal was documented in video by Macpherson April 14, 2022 on a beach along the North Shore of Oʻahu. Veteran mother RN58 gave birth to PO5, the fifth pup born on O‘ahu this year.

Cover photo and video by Lesley Macpherson, DNLR

Just how rare are Hawaiian Monk Seals?

Hawaiian monk seals are an endangered species. There are only about 1,400 seals in the world. About three-quarters of this total live in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, a remote string of small atolls northwest of Hawaii’s populated islands.

Considering their rarity, Lahaina Divers guests and crew have been treated to Hawaiian Monk seal sightings. Friendly and curious, observing these furry, puppy-faced creatures is a delight. Around the main Hawaiian Islands, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates there are only 300 monk seals. You may also encounter them swimming in near shore waters, or sunning on a beach. The monk seal is endemic to Hawaii- they are found no where else in the world.

Hawaiian Connection

Monk seals also hold a special place in Hawaiian culture. Ancient Hawaiians called the monk seal ‘Ilio holo I ka uaua (dog that runs in rough water). The monk seal’s common name is derived from its folds of skin that look like a monk’s hood, and because it spends most of its time alone or in very small groups. Young seals are called pups, are jet black and range from 25 pounds at birth up to 200 pounds at six weeks. Adults can weigh up to 500 pounds and range in color from dark brown to silvery grey with a light underbelly. They can live up to 30 years.

An endangered species

The Hawaiian monk seal was officially designated as an endangered species on November 23, 1976. However, the species was still illegally killed, often by subsistence fishermen who complained the seals broke nets and stole fish. Legislators stepped in, ensuring monk seals further protections.

Under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act it is illegal to kill, capture, or harass a Hawaiian monk seal. If a monk seal is spotted on the beach, officials will secure the area. Report all Sightings to 808-220-7802 or email PIFSC.monksealsighting@noaa.gov

Give them some space

Though a curious Hawaiian monk seal may approach you diving, it’s a good idea to give them their space. Mother seals can be extremely protective of their pups. There have also been incidents of Hawaiian monk seals being too friendly. The risk for divers is being pushed into deeper water than they had intended.

See the most of marine life

The best way to see the most diverse Hawaii marine life is to go on a variety of dives at different locations. Lahaina Divers has you covered- we go to more locations more often than any other dive operation on the island. Let’s go explore together!