By Nina Wu
There's a lot of love out there for Hawaiian monk seals. And why not?
They're cute, and lovable-looking sea creatures that can win you over with those big, watery eyes. They can also make you laugh, with the way they loll about lazily on sandy shores, basking in the sun.
But don't forget that they're still wild mammals that deserve the respect of space and distance.
Hawaiian monk seals are also the most endangered seal species in the U.S., with fewer than 1,100 left. They're on the decline, at a rate of 4 percent per year, due to low juvenile survival.
So it's good to know there are groups and individuals — both on the mainland East Coast and West Coast — who take a vested interest in Hawaiian monk seals.
The Marine Mammal Center of Sausalito, Calif. is raising money in hopes of establishing an endangered monk seal rehab and urgent care center at NELHA on the Big Island's Kona coast . Read about it in this recent Star-Advertiser story. Here's a Q&A posted by the center, along with renderings of the facility it envisions.
Dash Masland, a marine biologist from Maine, is also one of two contenders for the National Geographic Young Explorer contest. The other contender is Trevor Frost of Richmond, Va., who wants to help park rangers stop poaching in Indonesia.
The winner of the contest — to be determined via online vote — wins a $10,000 grant for a scientific research expedition. Voting began on March 13, and the winner will be announced on April 7.
Masland wants to help save the endangered Hawaiian monk seals using DNA analysis to study their dietary habits. She's particularly fascinated by why one very small group of less than 200 seals in the main Hawaiian Islands is increasing.
If you happen to see a Hawaiian monk seal basking on the beach, do not touch it. Observe it from at least 150 feet away, and no more than half an hour, according to NOAA guidelines. Under a new bill signed into law last year, it is a third-degree felony to intentionally harm or kill a Hawaiian monk seal. Violators face five years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000, according to this Star-Advertiser story.
If you see a stranded or entangled marine mammal, call 1-888-256-9840. You can also volunteer for the Oahu Monk Seal Response Team, which wants to bring a once-abandoned monk seal, KP2 (Ho‘ailona), back home to Hawaii from Santa Cruz, Calif.