The Monk Seal

The Monk Seal

Monk Seal
A mother monk seal and her pup sunbathe on the beach

The Dog that Runs in the Rough Seas

Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua is the name used to describe the Hawaiian monk seal. Literally it means, “the dog that runs in the rough (seas).” These seals get their common name “monk seals” because of their bald appearance, solitary habits and a fold of skin behind their heads which resembles a monk’s hood.

In recorded history, there have only been four seals born on the main Hawaiian islands. Two of those births occurred in 1991 on the North shores of Oahu and Kauai.

In both cases, volunteers from the community guarded the mother and pup from a distance to ensure that they would not be disturbed.


A newborn pup is jet black in color and weighs about 30 pounds. Its loose, velvety skin cloaks its body like an oversized coat. A mother seal will nurse her pup for a period of five or six weeks. During that time she is constantly at her pup’s side and does not go off to feed herself. At the end of the nursing period, the depleted mother will leave her pup to tend to her own nutritional needs.

The newly weaned pup, called a weaner, is by then fat with blubber. It can live off of its stored fat for a while but must soon learn to catch food on its own.

Seal Life

Monk seals feed largely on fish, eels, octopus, and lobster that they usually catch at night. In the daylight hours, the seals spend much of their time sleeping. When on land, they may look lethargic, sick or even dead. Actually, the seals come ashore to get their much-needed rest and should not be disturbed or approached.

Monk seals are an endangered species. Most of them inhabit the tiny islands and atolls which lay to the northwest of the main Hawaiian islands. In recent years, however, monk seals are being sighted around the main islands with increasing regularity.

Hawaiian Monk Seal by NOAA Fisheries

More Info

For more information about Hawaii’s native seal read The Hawaiian Monk Seal (University of Hawaii, Honolulu, 1994) by Patrick Ching.

Born and raised in Hawai’i, Patrick Ching has spent a lifetime getting to know native flora and fauna of the islands. Ching works part-time for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and has written and illustrated several books on Hawaiian animals.