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Hawaiian Monk Seal Population Rounds Out a Decade of Growth

May 10, 2023

The population is slowly but steadily increasing.

Researcher photographing monk seal A NOAA staff member surveys monk seals on a small islet where green sea turtles are also relaxing. Credit: NOAA Fisheries (Photo taken under permit)

In 2022, NOAA and partners gathered data on Hawaiian monk seals throughout their 1,500-mile wide range. The field teams scattered far and wide, from Hōlanikū (Kure Atoll) to Hawaiʻi Island to survey and collect new data. Thanks to these surveys, we have good news to report: the Hawaiian monk seal population continues to increase! In 2021, total abundance was estimated to be 1,564, which marked the first time the population had exceeded 1,500 in more than two decades. In 2022, the population crested 1,600.

Monk Seal Population Highlights

Here are a few of the field teams’ findings:

  • The estimated total population size of monk seals in 2022 was 1,605 (with 95 percent confidence that the true number is between 1,512 and 1,743)
  • About 75 percent of the seals live in the northwestern part of the island chain, the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, and the remaining 25 percent are in the main Hawaiian Islands. 
  • After decades of declining numbers, the number of monk seals has increased on average by 2 percent per year since 2013—a slow but steady rise over a full decade

Threats to Monk Seals

Despite these gains, monk seals remain vulnerable to many threats—including food limitation, human interactions, and entanglement in marine debris. NOAA works with partners to address these issues. In 2022, we conducted 68 life-saving actions, including:

  • Moving pups to safer locations
  • Disentangling seals caught in marine debris
  • De-hookings

Medical interventions were performed on the beach and at The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola monk seal hospital

Monk Seal Abundance Estimates
Total Hawaiian monk seal abundance estimates (circles) and 95 percent confidence intervals (vertical lines) from 2013 to 2022. Credit: NOAA Fisheries.

Last updated by Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center on May 18, 2023