By Spencer Showalter
For this week’s dose of #OceanOptimism, let’s fly across the Pacific to meet Hawaii’s state marine mammal: the Hawaiian monk seal (Neomonachus schauinslandi)! This charismatic animal is the oldest seal species on the planet—evidence indicates that they have lived on the Hawaiian islands for several million years. Unfortunately, they’re also one of the most endangered marine mammal species in the world. Presently, their population is estimated at about 1,400 seals, which comes out to about 30% of historic estimates for the species. Between 1950 and 2013 the species declined continuously due to a number of forces, including food limitations, shark predation, and most importantly, humans. Fishermen leave behind marine debris and inactive fishing nets, which lead to potentially fatal entanglement. Tourists take over beaches where monk seals historically hauled out to rest, escape predation, and raise young. Finally, beachgoers often feed monk seals, which can be dangerous to the seal and limit their capacity to learn to hunt for themselves.