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When you think of seals you sure don't think of warm water seals like the Hawaiian monk seal. Most seals make their home in frigid waters, but the Hawaiian monk seal is definitely a rare tropical exception. Hawaiian monk seals live in and around Oahu island and primarily reside in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. These small islands and atolls are either uninhabited or little-used by humans. These islands are surrounded with beautiful coral reefs, which serve as great foraging grounds to swim and dive for fish, spiny lobsters and octopuses.
Monk seals spend most of their time at sea, but come ashore to rest on beaches and have even been spotted using shoreline vegetation as shelter from storms. Monk seals in Oahu can be seen resting in small caves on the south east shores or also known as Portlock Wall. How did the monk seal get its name? Well it's the folds of skin that somewhat resemble a monk's cowl, and because it is usually seen alone or in small groups. We do see the monk seals playing occasionally but only with another monk seal. We have never seen more than 2 at a time on any dive we do to this Oahu scuba diving location.
Hawaiians call the monk seal `Ilio holo I ka uaua, which means, "dog that runs in rough water." Mother monk seals remain with their pups constantly for the first five or six weeks of the baby monk seal's lives. It is said the mother monk seal does not eat and may lose hundreds of pounds.
There are other types of warm water seals throughout the world. The Mediterranean and Caribbean monk seals. The Caribbean monk seal is believed to have been extinct since the 1970s. There may be 300 to 600 Mediterranean monk seals. In Hawaii there are roughly 1,300 to 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals. Of course us dirty humans have moved into many of the desirable coastal habitats that these animals once frequented, so open coastline is a losing battle for the rare Hawaiian monk seal. Monk seals have also been victims of fishing lines and boat accidents. Although not so reported it does happen. Tiger sharks have kill monk seals of smaller sizes and the male monk seals sometimes kill females in group attacks. This is called "mobbing." Today, Hawaiian monk seals in Hawaii are endangered. Yes protection efforts are in place, their numbers are believed to have fallen more than ten percent per year since 1989. When scuba diving in Oahu monk seals can be spotted. Monk seals are rare indeed, the thrill of actually seeing these rare mammals will excite anyone. We routinely see these seals in Oahu on dives such as Spitting Caves and Sea Caves. Monk seals also do not really care to interact with humans preferring to swim away up to the turbulent surface. However one must be careful when cornering a monk seal in a cave. These are very big animals therefore leaving an exit is a must. Most of the time we do not see the monk seal when entering caves in Hawaii. It is not until you are in the cave when your eyes adjust to be able to see the seal. Most of the times the Hawaiian monk seals quickly exits the cave entrance and surfaces.
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