The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the most endangered seal species in the world, and one of NOAA Fisheries’ Species in the Spotlight. With fewer than 1,600 individuals left in the wild, every seal is precious, and NOAA is invested in protecting each and every one. But there are some adult females we can’t help but hold in the highest regard: the Hawaiian monk seal matriarchs.
These matriarchs have been around for years (or even decades) and are well known to us and the communities around them. They have contributed much to the recovery of the species through their many offspring—and their daughters’ and granddaughters' offspring. And, they play an important role in our science, conservation efforts, and communities.
Here are five Hawaiian monk seal matriarchs in the main Hawaiian Islands.
R006 (Mama Eve)
R006’s legacy and matriarch status is undeniable. She was first sighted in 1996 on Molokaʻi when she was around 5 years old. A year later, she became the second seal in recorded history to give birth on that island. R006 was also the first in recorded history to do so at Kalaupapa. All of her descendants have been born at the remote and sparsely inhabited Kalaupapa, except for one of her grandpups that was born on Hawaiʻi Island. While we haven’t seen R006 since 2014, her legacy lives on—at least 85 seals and counting!
RS00 (Ewa Girl)
In the Hawaiian language, one meaning of the word ewa is “wandering.” RS00, or Ewa Girl, embodies that meaning—she has traveled the farthest, that we know of, among the monk seals in the Hawaiian Islands. RS00’s wanderlust began in 1997 at the age of five, just as she was reaching adulthood. She moved from her birth islet at Pihimanu (Midway Atoll), located at the far northwestern end of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, to Kamole (Laysan Island). She remained there for 2 years before traveling to Moloka‘i, Kaua‘i, and then Hawai‘i Island. In all, she traveled roughly 1,500 miles!
In 2001, RS00 became the first seal recorded to give birth on Hawaiʻi Island. She later gave birth on Niʻihau before having seven more pups on Oʻahu, including at Mānana Island (Rabbit Island) and Reef Runway. She had nine pups in total and sits at the head of a dynasty that spans four generations of Hawaiian monk seals. Like R006, she has not been seen since 2014.
If we had to describe RK28 in one word, it would be “resilient.” In 2014, she and her 2-week-old pup were attacked by dogs—sadly, her pup did not survive. Two years later, RK28 was the victim of a male mobbing incident in which multiple male monk seals competed to mate with her. They bit RK28 on the neck repeatedly during the mating process, leaving the seal with substantial scarring.
In 2018, RK28 was involved in a “pup-switching” event in which she and RH58 swapped and began nursing each other’s pups. Thankfully, she welcomed her pup back when we reunited the pair.
Despite these challenges, RK28 has birthed at least eight pups. Her first documented pup was born on Oʻahu in 2008. She later pupped on Niʻihau in 2013 and Kauaʻi in 2014. Since 2018, this matriarch has been a fixture of Kauaʻi beaches, having pupped on the island every year since then. We’ll have to wait and see if she continues this trend in 2023.
No discussion of monk seal matriarchs would be complete without mentioning RH58, whose meteoric rise to fame began in 2017. She shocked the world and became an ambassador for the species when she became the first seal to give birth in Waikīkī. Over the next few years, RH58 went on to give birth to three more pups, all on Kauaʻi, but she just couldn’t stay out of the limelight! Five years after giving birth to RJ58 (Kaimana), RH58 returned to Kaimana Beach to have RQ58 (Koalani) in 2022. She also set a trend—another seal, RK96 (Kaiwi), used Kaimana Beach to pup in 2021!
RH58 has now had 14 pups (her first was in 2006), eight of which were female! Some of her lineage are notable for other reasons:
- Son RG58 has become a dominant male on Kauaʻi since being born in 2015
- Granddaughter R00K (ʻImikai) was the first seal tagged as a weaned pup on Lāna‘i
- Great granddaughter RQ88 was the first pup born to a seal tagged on Lāna‘i
In 2007, up-and-coming matriarch RB00 was born on Kauaʻi to the famed RH58 (Rocky). Once weaned, RB00 left her birth beach and was rarely seen for many years. After bouncing between Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, Maui, Lānaʻi, and Hawaiʻi Island, she was spotted with a stillborn pup in a remote area of Maui in 2016. This was her first recorded pup, though she may have had more, given how little we have seen her.
RB00 went on to give birth to one pup each year from 2018 to 2022. All of these pups were born on Kauaʻi, except for R00K (ʻImikai) on Lāna‘i. RB00’s pups tend to be robust because she often gains more weight and nurses for longer than the average Hawaiian monk seal mother. While she may have had only five pups so far (not counting the stillborn), she may be on track to one day take the matriarch mantle from her mother, RH58.