Headlines – News – Articles
9th April, 2015

The conservation workshop that wasn’t

COMMENT

“Mediterranean monk seal biologists and managers are jetting across oceans to Hawaii to attend the International Collaboration for the Conservation of Monk Seals. The HMSRP and our international colleagues will be spending the next two weeks sharing science, outreach and management experiences to help both species of monk seal. We will be sharing news, updates and interesting facts over the next 2 weeks.” — NOAA Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program

Some — including The Monachus Guardian — have questioned the wisdom of convening a “closed door” workshop of this type at a time of severe funding shortages, urgent conservation challenges at the grassroots level, and lack of stakeholder participation in both Hawaii and the Mediterranean. [See comments on the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program Facebook page for a brief overview of the debate — or rather, the debate that should be.]

While the 12-day event in Hawaii is now hastily being described as a “technical workshop” only (— one wonders why, then, it is billed as “International Collaboration for the Conservation of Monk Seals”), it is a fallacy to contend that discussions on such issues as human-seal interactions and translocation will have no direct bearing on practical management choices for the species and its habitats. With many monk seal conservationists not participating in the workshop, both from Hawaii and the Mediterranean, one wonders when the usual “top down” conservation management habits of the past will be seen for what they are: counter-productive. While it may be unrealistic or impractical for every interested party to attend such a workshop, one cannot help but ask why even the most rudimentary details have not been provided to other interested parties and the public at large — such as a workshop agenda and a list of participants.

“The usual top down approaches have failed monk seals everywhere. We need a new paradigm of collaboration and cooperation among all stakeholders, not simply a few singular entities. A true international collaboration and discussion could be tremendously helpful.” — Monk Seal Foundation

“An event where they announce they’ll be ‘sharing science, outreach and management experiences’ but yet aren’t even inviting the NOAA Recovery Program that is responsible for a great deal of outreach and management? smh There are many organizations in Hawaii and Europe (been in touch with a few this weekend) that could have potentially benefited from attending even if it was simply to learn. At a time when Federal Funding isn’t even remotely close to what is needed to save the species, it’s imperative that opportunities not be wasted.” — Pat Wardell

6th February, 2015

Enhancing the future of the Hawaiian monk seal: recommendations for the NOAA recovery program

Recent Publications

Executive Summary

Publication coverMarine Conservation Institute undertook this report on the Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Program for the purpose of enhancing the conservation prospects of one of the world’s most endangered pinnipeds. The Hawaiian monk seal (Neomonachus schauinslandi), whose estimated population now hovers between 900 and 1,100 animals, has suffered a 60-year decline despite the efforts of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and others to reverse it. Although some may view the seal’s fate as hopeless, it is not. Despite difficult circumstances, NMFS and its partners have made progress on several fronts to slow the seal’s decline. Encouragingly, NMFS estimates that up to 32 per cent of all seals living in 2012 were alive because of hundreds of interventions taken by the agency over many years to enhance the survival of individual seals at risk.

Nevertheless, the recovery program faces several challenges that must be met if the program is going to meet its current long term goal of having a population of 3,200 seals, with 500 individuals in the main Hawaiian Islands (MHI) and 2,900 in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). With a good strategy, sufficient resources, and effective coordination among its several partners, we think NMFS can accelerate progress toward achieving and maintaining a healthy population of monk seals. But it is not going to be easy.

Chandler, W., E. Douce, K. Shugart-Schmidt, T. Watson, M. Sproat, F. Rosenstiel, K. Yentes, X. Escovar-Fadul, and T. Laubenstein. 2015. Enhancing the future of the Hawaiian monk seal: recommendations for the NOAA recovery program. Marine Conservation Institute. Seattle, WA: 1-80. [PDF 4.3MB]

12th June, 2014

NOAA releases Final Environmental Impact Statement for Monk Seal Actions

NOAA Announcement

hawaiianmonkseal1_pifscThe Final PEIS for Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Actions was made available for public review from April 11 to May 12, 2014.  The Preferred Alternative identified in the Final PEIS is Alternative 3, Limited Translocation.  The Preferred Alternative does not include any translocation option that involves moving seals born in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and releasing them in the main Hawaiian Islands.  The Final PEIS is available at:
http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/eis/hawaiianmonkseal.htm.

NOAA Fisheries has issued the Record of Decision for the Final PEIS, which summarizes the alternatives considered, identifies the preferred alternative (Alternative 3, Limited Translocation) and why it was chosen, and identifies required mitigation and monitoring.  NOAA Fisheries plans to implement Alternative 3 and permit and conduct the research and enhancement activities included in this alternative.

The Record of Decision is also available at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/eis/hawaiianmonksealeis.htm.

HMS Final PEIS Record of Decision (PDF 255 KB)

14th May, 2014

New genus, Neomonachus, recommended for Caribbean, Hawaiian monk seals

Recent Publications

open_access_orangeDirk-Martin Scheel, Graham Slater, Sergios-Orestis Kolokotronis, Charles Potter, David Rotstein, Kyriakos Tsangaras, Alex Greenwood and Kristofer M. Helgen. 2014. Biogeography and taxonomy of extinct and endangered monk seals illuminated by ancient DNA and skull morphology, ZooKeys 409 (2014): 1-33. [Downloadable in various formats from Zookeys]

Abstract

Extinctions and declines of large marine vertebrates have major ecological impacts and are of critical concern in marine environments. The Caribbean monk seal, Monachus tropicalis, last definitively reported in 1952, was one of the few marine mammal species to become extinct in historical times. Despite its importance for understanding the evolutionary biogeography of southern phocids, the relationships of M. tropicalis to the two living species of critically endangered monk seals have not been resolved. In this study we present the first molecular data for M. tropicalis, derived from museum skins. Phylogenetic analysis of cytochrome b sequences indicates that M. tropicalis was more closely related to the Hawaiian rather than the Mediterranean monk seal. Divergence time estimation implicates the formation of the Panamanian Isthmus in the speciation of Caribbean and Hawaiian monk seals. Molecular, morphological and temporal divergence between the Mediterranean and “New World monk seals” (Hawaiian and Caribbean) is profound, equivalent to or greater than between sister genera of phocids. As a result, we classify the Caribbean and Hawaiian monk seals together in a newly erected genus, Neomonachus. The two genera of extant monk seals (Monachus and Neomonachus) represent old evolutionary lineages each represented by a single critically endangered species, both warranting continuing and concerted conservation attention and investment if they are to avoid the fate of their Caribbean relative.

20th November, 2013

POP QUIZ: How did the Monk Seal Find its Name?

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Over the years, there has been much confusion over the origins of the monk seal’s name, as well as many imaginative explanations. Here are a few to be going on with. Can you identify the correct answer? If you think you can, please post your answer below. We’ll be posting our reply about a week from now.

How did the Monk Seal Find its Name?

(1) Because the black seal with the white belly patch was reminiscent of the robes of a monastic community.

(2) Because the monk seal is shy and retiring, living a “monastic” lifestyle.

(3) Because of the folds of fat around the neck of the seal were reminiscent of a monk’s hood or scapular.

(4) Because the rows of seals stretched out lazily on the sands reminded Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder of a procession of hooded monks.

(5) None of the above.

To answer these and other historical puzzles on the Mediterranean monk seal, you may wish to read our illustrated two-volume “Monk Seal Histories”, available here in PDF format.

13th October, 2012

DLNR, NOAA appeal for help in preventing entanglements

News release, US Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), 5 October 2012
Fishing hook

Photo courtesy NOAA

The Department of Land and Natural Resources and NOAA Fisheries announce that since the beginning of 2012, NOAA Fisheries, DLNR, and partners have responded to 13 seal hooking incidents involving ten individual Hawaiian monk seals.

Due to early reporting, seven of the 11 live cases ended successfully with intervention from authorized federal and state agency monk seal responders.

Two cases ended in the seal ridding itself without intervention, and although an intervention was attempted, one seal remains hooked to this day.

Three cases ended in deaths.

Most recently, on Oct. 2, 2012, the monk seal locally known as “RK54” was found dead near the Ninini Light house on Kauai. The seal swallowed a hook, became entangled in the line, and died. RK54 was born in April 2011 to RK22 (mother of the “famous” KP2 who resides at Waikiki Aquarium).

→ Continue reading DLNR, NOAA appeal for help in preventing entanglements

8th August, 2012

NOAA scientists optimistic, despite record low births

Media Watch, KITV, 7 August 2012

NOAA scientists, fresh from field camp in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, return with both troubling and hopeful news on efforts to save the Hawaiian monk seal.

Source: Monk seal relocation successful, KITV via Yahoo News.

2nd July, 2012

Notes from the Field

The Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program is posting some fascinating updates and observations on its Facebook page from its latest tour of duty among the far-flung atolls of the North Western Hawaiian Islands. Here is the latest:

Notes from the Field: Update from Laysan Island Monk Seal Team

We have hit the field running on Laysan. For a reunited, returning crew, it has been relatively easy to do just that. With the field camp up and running by the end of offload day, we were able to start surveys our second day on island.

Within the first week, we were able to tag all 21 weaned pups. Tags are placed on the hind flippers to give each seal a unique set of tags used to identify that seal throughout its life. Once these pups were tagged, it was onto the next set of priorities. → Continue reading Notes from the Field