One of my favorite animal habitats at SeaWorld San Antoniohas always been Rocky Point Preserve. Watching the seals, sea lions, and otters swim, play, socialize, and bask in the sun is always so entertaining, and it’s easy to spend a long time there soaking in the fun.
If you have visited the area lately, you may have noticed a group of new residents right next door, around the corner from the California sea lions and harbor seals. This small group of Hawaiian monk seals have been here at SeaWorld for the past twelve years, but have most recently been living in our behind the scenes, zoological support area. Now that they are back in the park, you won’t want to miss these animals, as our guests have a tremendous opportunity to learn about a species that very few people see in the wild.
The Hawaiian monk seal is an endangered marine mammal that is found exclusively in the clear waters of the Hawaiian Islands. Unlike other seals, Hawaiian monk seals seem to prefer a solitary life and rarely congregate. Some believe their name relates to their monk-like preference for solitude; others think the loose skin around the seals neck resembles the hood of a monk’s robe. Their Hawaiian name, Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua, means “dog that runs in rough water”. They are among the most endangered of all seals. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the current population is around 1060 animals.
The reasons Hawaiian monk seals have become endangered include poor survival rate among pups due to human disturbances, Moms will abandon their pups if they feel threatened. Because they do not have any natural land predators, the monk seal did not develop a fleeing sense, making them easy prey for sealing. Pollution is very high in native seal waters, and they easily become become entangled in abandoned fishing nets and lines
The SeaWorld Busch Gardens Conservation Fund has helped Hawaiian monk seals by providing funding for a variety of projects. Research scientists and marine mammal experts including Animal Care staff from SeaWorld San Antonio work together on a head start program to help encourage survival of juvenile monk seal populations. Young females are hand reared in beach pens in the far Northwest Islands of Hawaii. The goal is to raise the pups to one year of age in excellent health, so that their chance of survival is greatly increased.
The Hawaiian monk seals at SeaWorld San Antonio were formerly part of this head start program. When it was determined that this particular group seals could not forage or defend themselves in the wild due to vision impairment, the National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS) sought to relocate the entire group from the Kewalo Research Facility in Hawaii to a more spacious home for long term care. While they are here at SeaWorld, researchers from this park and other zoological institutions have the opportunity to observe and study the animals’ physiology and behavior in hopes of finding answers that will contribute to the long term survival of Hawaiian monk seals in the wild.
If you would like to learn more about Hawaiian monk seals, don’t forget to stop by and say aloha at Rocky Point Preserve during your next visit to SeaWorld. Currently, SeaWorld San Antonio is the only facility outside of Hawaii where you can see Hawaiian monk seals, so you truly don’t want to miss them. Our Education staff is always there; ready to answer all of your questions. You can also chat with some of our Animal Care staff, some of whom have worked with monk seals in their natural environment on our Behind the Scenes tour. Kipa hou mai, or we hope to see you there soon.