Hawaiian Monk Seal Historical Timeline
Natural history and conservation events of the Hawaiian monk seal starting from 70 million years ago to present.
Past to Present
Monk seals have lived in the Hawaiian archipelago for a very long time. Archeological and historical records indicate the seals have occupied the main Hawaiian Islands for at least the
past several hundred years, and everything we know about monk seals suggests that the entire archipelago has served as monk seal habitat for millions of years.
Million Years Ago
A series of volcanic eruptions begins, eventually forming the islands of the Hawaiian archipelago.
Monk seals as we know them today first appear in the oceans.
The island of Molokaʻi is forming
The island of Kauaʻi forming.
Central American Seaway is closed by the Isthmus of Panama, separating monk seals in Hawaiʻi from their Caribbean and Mediterranean relatives.
Monk seals make their way to Hawaiʻi, presumably through the Central American Seaway, a previously existing open water passage between North and South America.
1000 to 1290 A.D.
The first Polynesian settlers arrive in Hawaiʻi.
1400 to 1750
Hawaiian monk seal remains are buried in a Hawaiian midden (domestic waste pile) on the Island of Hawaiʻi. Archaeologists unearthed the bone during the summer field seasons of 1968–1970. This area was first settled around 600 years ago.
Seal hunting expeditions during the middle 19th century reduced the Hawaiian monk seal population to near extinction across the Hawaiian islands.
The entire body of a juvenile Hawaiian monk seal buried in a pit in Wailuku, Maui. The skeleton was found intact, suggesting it was not butchered, but the skull was crushed. Discovered during excavation of a buried cultural deposit by archaeologists in 1996.
Sealing expedition by the brig "Aiona" is thought to have taken the last monk seal in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Monk seal bones deposited in another Hawaiian household site in coastal North Kohala.
King Kamehameha IV visits Nihoa and an excerpt from the Manuokawai ship's log states, "At 10 a.m. went ashore. About a dozen seals were on shore and the King shot several of them."
The first Hawaiian monk seal specimens were collected for science.
Hawaiian monk seal births and sightings in the main Hawaiian Islands increase.
Naturalist H.W. Henshaw writes: "In 1900 a sick or helpless seal was caught by the natives in Hilo Bay, Hawaiʻi, toward shore, killed and eaten. Unfortunately I was too late to secure any part of the animal for identification, but the natives assured me that solitary seals occurred on the coast about once in 10 years or so. They were very curious and asked many questions as to the habitat of the animal, its nature, food and habits, about which they knew nothing."
The Hawaiian monk seal is given its scientific name, Monachus schauinslandi (changed to Neomonachus schauinslandi in 2015), after Dr. H. Schauinsland brought a seal skull back from Laysan Island in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
The U.S. revenue cutter Thetis returns from a cruise to Midway and Laysan Islands in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands with seal skins and presents them to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi; and the U.S. Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
During the George Vanderbilt Pacific Equatorial Expedition, Hawaiian monk seals are found on all the Leeward Islands from French Frigate Shoals northward; a total of 407 sightings.
Scientists conduct the first systematic survey to count the number of Hawaiian monk seals.
A small black seal pup is found abandoned on Kauaʻi and shipped to Oʻahu by wildlife officials. It is turned down by the zoo and likely died.
Members of the Robinson family (owners of Niʻihau) begin observing a growing population of Hawaiian monk seals using the island and surrounding waters.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act is passed by Congress and signed into law by President Richard Nixon. The law prohibits the hunting, killing, capture and/or harassment of any marine mammal or the attempt to do so. The law also halts the import, export, and sale of any marine mammal, along with any marine mammal part or product within the United States.
The Endangered Species Act is passed by Congress and signed into law. The law is intended to protect critically imperiled species from extinction.
The Hawaiian monk seal is listed as "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act.
NOAA Fisheries begins collecting sighting data in the main Hawaiian Islands (MHI). Sightings are fairly sparse but consistent throughout the 1980s.
Nine adult male Hawaiian monk seals are relocated from Laysan Island (NWHI) to Johnston Atoll because of attacks on immature and adult female seals.
Male Hawaiian monk seals greatly outnumbered females on Laysan Island, leading to high levels of male aggression, with some males injuring and killing female seals. To prevent the further loss of females, NOAA Fisheries relocated 21 adult males from Laysan to the MHI.
National Geographic’s “CRITTERCAM” investigations begin revealing new insights about foraging areas and feeding habits of the Hawaiian monk seal.
The revised Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Plan describes the threats facing the species and recommended actions needed to address those threats. Lt. Governor Aiona signs legislation establishing the Hawaiian monk seal as the official state mammal.
NOAA Fisheries re-establishes the Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Team due to new information on monk seal biology, an outdated recovery plan, and new management issues to be addressed regarding more seals in the main Hawaiian Islands.
The revised Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Plan describes the threats facing the species and recommended actions needed to address those threats.
Lt. Governor Aiona signs into law legislation that establishes the Hawaiian monk seal as the official state mammal.
Some Hawaiian monk seals in the MHI are fitted with new, high-tech cell phone tags that track their movements and also record dive depths, water temperature and salinity.
Responding to a legal petition, NOAA Fisheries proposes expanding Hawaiian monk seal critical habitat in the NWHI and adding new areas in the MHI.
The Marine Mammal Center breaks ground on the construction of a Hawaiian monk seal rehabilitation facility at Keahole Point in Kailua-Kona on Hawaii Island.
A record year with 21 pups born in the MHI in 2013.
New "CRITTERCAM" research expands to seals in the main Hawaiian Islands.
The opening of The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola hospital on the Island of Hawai‘i represents a major step forward for the recovery of the Hawaiian monk seal population, as it is the first-ever rehabilitation facility devoted to this endangered species.
NOAA Fisheries launches an effort to vaccinate Hawaiian monk seals against morbillivirus, a genus of virus that has killed thousands of marine mammals in other parts of the world and is also behind measles and canine distemper. This initiative is the first to ever try to vaccinate a wild marine mammal species.
About 30 percent of the Hawaiian monk seal population is alive today thanks to the recovery actions and interventions of NOAA Fisheries, such as disentanglement, rehabilitation, and more.