Hawaiian Monk Seal Partner in the Spotlight: U.S. Coast Guard District 14

January 29, 2020

U.S. Coast Guard District 14 receives NOAA Fisheries Partner in the Spotlight Award for its important contributions to Hawaiian monk seal conservation and recovery.

Hawaiian monk seal partner spotlight award accepted.

Mike Tosatto, Regional Administrator for Pacific Islands Regional Office presenting spotlight award to USCG District 14.

As one of NOAA Fisheries’ nine Species in the Spotlight, the Hawaiian monk seal is no stranger to life-saving rescue and rehabilitation efforts by NOAA and partners. Malnourished, injured, or ill individuals head to NOAA’s facilities on Ford Island, Oʻahu or to The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola facility on Hawaiʻi Island for treatment. When hey do, one thing is always certain: The U.S. Coast Guard and their HC-130 aircraft are always ready to help with transportation if necessary.

The U.S. Coast Guard has made critical contributions to Hawaiian monk seal conservation and recovery—and been the vital transportation thread running through these concerted efforts. NOAA Fisheries has recognized U.S. Coast Guard District 14 with the prestigious Partner in the Spotlight Award. 

“One of the key underpinnings of the [Species in the Spotlight] initiative was that conservation doesn’t occur in a vacuum,” Angela Amlin, NOAA Fisheries Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Coordinator, said at the award ceremony held at the NOAA Daniel K. Inouye Regional Center on Ford Island on September 12, 2019. “We need partners in order to facilitate protected species recovery. So we want to make sure that we are acknowledging and showing our gratitude to our partners [for] their amazing contributions to monk seal recovery that have led to us seeing an increase in population for the first time in decades.”


Left to right: Mike Tosatto, Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries’ Pacific Islands Regional Office, Angela Amlin, Admiral Kevin Lunday, David Schofield, and Eric Roberts.

The partnership between the U.S. Coast Guard and the Pacific Islands Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program began in 2008. Since then, USCG District 14 has supported more than 50 transports across the Hawaiian archipelago, including the remote and uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. At the award ceremony, NOAA Fisheries’ Regional Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator David Schofield noted some of District 14’s notable achievements, including:

  • A record-setting transport of seven female monk seals in one trip from Hawaiʻi Island to Oʻahu. 
  • The dual transport of an injured person and a male monk seal from Midway Atoll to Honolulu.
  • The transport of a stake-bed truck loaded with a 4,000 pound beaked whale from Maui to Hawaiʻi Island, effectively providing both air and ground transportation support.

NOAA Fisheries’ Regional Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator David Schofield highlighting some of USCG District 14’s notable achievements.

They are also invaluable contributors to whale and dolphin disentanglement efforts. “You are all there to help us if there’s a problem,” Schofield said to the Coast Guard partners in the room. “We thank you for that. We thank you for your professionalism, your dedication, and all the great memories and stories.” 

Mike Tosatto, Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries’ Pacific Islands Regional Office, stressed that the ultimate goal of these collaborative conservation and recovery efforts is to eventually remove the Hawaiian monk seal from the endangered and threatened species list. But this goal wouldn’t be possible without partners who are able to bring distressed monk seals to where they need to be.

“You’ve answered that call and are always prepared to help,” Tosatto said, adding that the strong partnership between NOAA Fisheries and USCG is built through daily contact and practice. “I think [this partnership is] going to endure long into the future.”

These transportation efforts not only help save seal lives. U.S. Coast Guard pilots need to log a certain number of hours in the air per year, so these transportation efforts also contribute to the pilot training requirements. Additionally, they provide the members involved with an educational and rewarding encounter with monk seals.

It’s a very fulfilling mission when the airstation crews or crews from Sector Honolulu are “able to assist an animal that is endangered and is injured or needs treatment,” said Rear Admiral Kevin Lunday, who accepted the award on behalf of  District 14.


RH38 returning back to the wild on the north shore of Kauaʻi after extensive medical care and rehabilitation at Ke Kai Ola. Photo: Kauaʻi marine mammal response program volunteer/Kim Rogers.

Hawaiian monk seals are protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, as well as Hawaiʻi state law. They are also included in the “Species in the Spotlight” initiative. NOAA Fisheries launched the initiative in 2015 to bring greater attention and marshal resources to save nine ESA-listed species that are considered among the most at-risk of extinction in the near future. NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Coast Guard have directives to work with other partners to help prevent these vulnerable species from vanishing. However, the reasons behind individuals’ work often run much deeper and personal.

“We don’t do it just because we’re supposed to, although that’s part of it,” Admiral Lunday said. “We do it because we’re passionate about protecting these species and other species that are endangered.”


Understanding Marine Wildlife Stranding and Response

Learn about strandings of marine mammals and sea turtles and how NOAA Fisheries and partners respond to these animals in distress.


Last updated by Pacific Islands Regional Office on January 31, 2020