How can you resist the face of this Hawaiian monk seal pup? I mean, really. And, yet, at one time this critically-endangered marine mammal was clubbed to death. In the 1800’s, sealers got face-to-face with these cute creatures and bludgeoned them, primarily for their pelts. Hard to imagine, right? It wasn’t hard to do, though. At least, approaching them wasn’t. With their relatively small front flippers, monk seals are decidedly not agile on land. Plus, they didn’t put up much of a fight, because they evolved in places where no land predators existed–until we humans arrived–so they don’t fear us. That’s why they seem perfectly happy hauling out on Kaua’i’s Po’ipu Beach, say, where 500 people are frolicking on the beach.
Last summer, the Caribbean monk seal was officially determined “exctinct” after a five-year review by NOAA’s Fisheries Service. The last confirmed sighting of this “cousin” to the Hawaiian monk seal dated back to 1952. It is the first seal to be declared extinct from human causes.
While sealing is now outlawed, humans still pose threats to these rare pinnipeds. Overfishing, entanglement in marine debris and loss of haul-out and pupping beaches due to global warming all threaten the long-term survival of this species. The recent bump in federal funding will help. But is it enough? Who knows? Here’s how you can help.