Conservation of Hawaiian Monk Seals (Neomonachus schauinslandi) Though the Rehabilitation of Malnourished Juvenile Seals
IAAAM 2016
Shawn P. Johnson1*; Michelle M. Barbieri2; Deb Wickham1; Tenaya Norris1; Claire A. Simeone1; Gregg Levine1; Cara Field1; Charles L. Littnan2; Frances M.D. Gulland1
1The Marine Mammal Center, Sausalito, CA, USA; 2Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program, NOAA IRC, Honolulu, HI, USA


Hawaiian monk seals (Neomonachus schauinslandi; HMS) are endangered phocids endemic to Hawaii. Prey limitation and poor foraging success are the main threat to HMS in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI).1,2 In the main Hawaiian Islands (MHI), conflicts involving humans, disease, and pollution pose the greatest threat to HMS surviva.3,4 With extremely poor juvenile survival in the NWHI and increasing human-seal interactions in the MHI, the rehabilitation of sick, injured, or malnourished HMS has been identified as an important conservation strategy for this species.5-7 With the establishment of a dedicated monk seal hospital and in conjunction with the existing long-term HMS research program, 12 weaned pups and 3 yearling seals that had poor probabilities of survival were rehabilitated from 2014–2016. Initial examinations included morphometrics, hematology, serum chemistry, fecal bacterial culture, serology, blood ciguatoxin levels, and ocular, nasal, and rectal swabs for virology screening. Seals were treated for malnutrition, gastrointestinal cestodiasis, skin wounds, abscesses, and Campylobacter enteritis. Upon admission, pups weighed 27.6 ± 7.4 kg and yearlings weighed 40.8 ± 7.2 kg. Time in rehabilitation for the 8 released seals ranged from 66–198 d with weight gains of 39.3 ± 34.4 kg (range 9.4–91.5 kg). Post-release telemetry data revealed that all 8 seals were foraging until their tags stopped transmitting, and 4 of these animals have been re-sighted in good nutritional condition one year post-release. To date, these seals represent more than 1% of the entire HMS population and highlight the essential role of rehabilitation in conservation of this critically endangered species.


The authors would like to thank the staff and volunteers of The Marine Mammal Center - Ke Kai Ola for their care of the animals undergoing rehabilitation and the staff of the NOAA HMS Research Program for the rescue, transport, and release of the seals.

* Presenting author

Literature Cited

1.  Craig MP, Ragen TJ. Body size, survival, and decline of juvenile Hawaiian monk seals, Monachus schauinslandi. Mar Mamm Sci. 1999;15:786–809.

2.  Parrish FA, Marshall GJ, Buhleier B, Antonelis GA. Foraging interaction between monk seals and large predatory fish in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Endanger Species Res. 2008;4:299–308.

3.  Littnan CL, Stewart BS, Yochem PK, Braun R. Survey for selected pathogens and evaluation of disease risk factors for endangered Hawaiian monk seals in the main Hawaiian Islands. EcoHealth. 2007;3:232–244.

4.  Baker JD, Harting AL, Wurth TA, Johanos TC. Dramatic shifts in Hawaiian monk seal distribution predicted from divergent regional trends. Mar Mamm Sci. 2010;27:78–93.

5.  Baker JD, Littnan CL, eds. Report of the Hawaiian Monk Seal Captive Care Workshop, Honolulu, Hawaii, June 11–13, 2007. NOAA PIFSC Administrative Report H-08-02. US Department of Commerce; 2008.

6.  Gilmartin WG, Sloan AC, Harting AL, Johanos TC, Baker JD, Breese M, Ragen TJ. Rehabilitation and relocation of young Hawaiian monk seals (Monachus schauinslandi). Aquat Mamm. 2011;37:332–341.

7.  Norris TA, Littnan CL, Gulland FM. Evaluation of the captive care and post-release behavior and survival of seven juvenile female Hawaiian monk seals (Monachus schauinslandi). Aquat Mamm. 2011;37:342–353.


Speaker Information
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Shawn P. Johnson, DVM, MPVM
The Marine Mammal Center
Sausalito, CA, USA

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