How Many Hawaiian Monk Seals Are There? (The Picture Quiz answer)

Mar 03 2008 Published by under Biology, Science, Science, Policy, and Management

In Friday's picture quiz, I posted a picture that I took that contained two Hawaiian Monk seals (Monachus schauinslandi), and asked you to take a guess at what percent of the total population of the species appears in the picture. As David noted, if you're asking that sort of question, the answer isn't likely to be good. It certainly isn't good in this case.

The Hawaiian Monk Seal has been on the Endangered Species List since 1976. A five-year assessment of the seal's current situation was concluded in August, and examined whether or not the species has met the three biological factors required to change its status from "endangered" to "threatened":

1. Aggregate numbers exceed 2,900 total individuals in the NWHI;

2. At least 5 of the 6 main sub-populations in the NWHI are above 100 individuals, and the MHI population is above 500;

3. Survivorship of females in each subpopulation in the NWHI and MHI is high enough that, in conjunction with the birth rates in each subpopulation, the calculated population growth rate for each subpopulation is not negative.

[NWHI = Northwestern Hawaiian Islands; MHI = Main Hawaiian Islands]

As of the August review, the Hawaiian Monk Seals have met none of those three criteria. The population size continues to shrink, and extinction remains a very real threat.


Colin and qetzal both got the answer to the quiz question correct - the two individuals in Friday's picture represent a bit less than 0.2% of the total population of the species. David's answer (4%) wasn't too bad, either. The two seals that I photographed represent about 3% of the Main Hawaiian Island population.

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