Pages Navigation Menu

Are there really Seals in Hawaii?

Are there really seals in Hawaii?

Monk Seal

Monk Seal seen by Kai Kanani snorkelers off Makena, Maui, Hawaii

Yes! We know them by the name Monk Seal or by the Native Hawaiian name Ilioholoikauaua and we had the pleasure of seeing one recently on our Deluxe Snorkel Tour.

The Monk Seal is the only seal native to Hawaii. It is an endangered species and there are an estimated 1,100 of these beautiful mammals in our Hawaiian Islands. There is one other species of Monk Seal in the world – the Mediterranean Monk Seal, which has an estimated population 500. Sadly, the Caribbean Monk Seal was declared extinct in 2008.

The biggest natural threats to our Hawaiian Monk Seals are predators and disease, but there is some hope for their survival. For instance, the recently created Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument protects 90% of the Hawaiian Monk Seal population. This monument has a plentiful supply of fish and very little disruption from human activities.


Our State Mammal

Monk Seal Swimming in Molokini

The Hawaiian name for the Monk Seal, Ilioholoikauaua  translates to “dog that runs in rough waters.” It is not known when Monk Seals first arrived in Hawaii, but some believe they are referenced in the ancient Hawaiian creation chant Kumulipo. Archeological evidence and oral history lend support to this theory.


Monk seals are the state mammal of Hawaii and are opportunistic feeders, sometimes diving to a depth of 900 feet (274 m) to feed on a wide variety of marine life that includes fish, octopus, eels, and crustaceans.

Viewing Monk Seals on Kai Kanani

 Monk Seal

Every year a few of our lucky guests get to see Hawaiian Monk seals. We see them resting on shore or napping under ledges underwater.  We have even had a curious seal approach us and even climb onto our surfboards! It’s very important to not attempt to chase, approach or touch  these animals as they are wild.

Monk Seals are identified by different colorings and markings. These markings may include scars inflicted by other seals during the mating process, predators, or entanglement with marine debris.  All Monk Seal sightings should be reported to the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center to help protect these beautiful and endangered mammals.

If you see a Monk Seal on a Kai Kanani Snorkeling Tour

Monk Seal

Let your naturalist know and they’ll be happy to assist you with the best viewing and photo taking guidelines – and answer any questions for you!