Protected Resources Division

Hawaiian Monk Seal Historical Timeline

70 mya (million years ago)
A series of volcanic eruptions begins, eventually forming the islands of the Hawaiian archipelago.
10-11.6 mya    Monk seals as we know them today first appear in the oceans.

~ 5.1 mya

~ 1.9 mya

~ 3 mya

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3.5-11.6 mya    Monk seals make their way to Hawaii, presumably through the Central American Seaway, a previously existing open water passage between North and South America.
~1000-1290 A.D.
   The first Polynesian settlers arrive in Hawaii.
1400-1750    Hawaiian monk seal remains are buried in a Hawaiian midden (domestic waste pile) on the Island of Hawaii. Archaeologists unearthed the bone during the summer field seasons of 1968-1970. This area was first settled around 600 years ago.
1778    Captain James Cook, a British explorer, is the first European to arrive in the Hawaiian Islands.
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~ 1800s

~ 1850s-1860s

1800s to 1900s    Seal hunting expeditions during the mid-19th century reduce the Hawaiian monk seal population to near extinction across the Hawaiian Islands.
1824    Sealing expedition by the brig "Aiona" is thought to have taken the last monk seal in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI).
1857    King Kamehameha IV visits Nihoa and an exerpt from the Manuokawai ship's log states, "At 10 a.m. went ashore. About a dozen seals were on shore and the King shot several of them."
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1891    The first Hawaiin monk seal specimens were collected for science.
1900    Naturalist H.W. Henshaw writes: "In 1900 a sick or helpless seal was caught by the natives in Hilo Bay, Hawaii, toward shore, killed and eaten. Unfortunately I was too late to secure any part of the animal for identification, but the natives assured me that solitary seals occurred on the coast about once in 10 years or so. They were very curious and asked many questions as to the habitat of the animal, its nature, food and habits, about which they knew nothing."
1905    The Hawaiian monk seal is given its scientific name, Monachus schauinslandi (changed to Neomonachus schauinslandi in 2015), after Dr. H. Schauinsland brought a seal skull back from Laysan Island in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI).
1912    The U.S. revenue cutter Thetis returns from a cruise to Midway and Laysan Islands in the NWHI with seal skins and presents them to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu; and the U.S. Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
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1951    During the George Vanderbilt Pacific Equatorial Expedition, Hawaiian monk seals are found on all the Leeward Islands from French Frigate Shoals northward; a total of 407 sightings.
1956    Scientists conduct the first systematic survey to count the number of Hawaiian monk seals.
1962    A small black seal pup is found abandoned on Kauai and shipped to Oahu by wildlife officials. It is turned down by the zoo and likely died.
1970s     Members of the Robinson family (owners of Niihau) begin observing a growing population of Hawaiian monk seals using the island and surrounding waters.
1972     The Marine Mammal Protection Act is passed by Congress and signed into law by President Richard Nixon. The law prohibits the hunting, killing, capture and/or harassment of any marine mammal or the attempt to do so. The law also halts the import, export, and sale of any marine mammal, along with any marine mammal part or product within the United States.
1973     The Endangered Species Act is passed by Congress and signed into law. The law is intended to protect critically imperiled species from extinction.
1976     The Hawaiian monk seal is listed as "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act.
1982     NOAA Fisheries begins collecting sighting data in the main Hawaiian Islands (MHI). Sightings are fairly sparse but consistent throughout the 1980s.

1984    Nine adult male Hawaiian monk seals are relocated from Laysan Island (NWHI) to Johnston Atoll because of attacks on immature and adult female seals.
1988     A pup is born and successfully weaned on Kauai.
1990s     Hawaiian monk seal births and sightings in the MHI increase.
1991     At least 3 pups are born on Niihau, Kauai and Oahu.
1994     Male Hawaiian monk seals greatly outnumbered females on Laysan Island, leading to high levels of male aggression, with some males injuring and killing female seals. To prevent the further loss of females, NOAA Fisheries relocated 21 adult males from Laysan to the MHI.
1995     National Geographic's "CRITTERCAM" investigations begin revealing new insights about foraging areas and feeding habits of the Hawaiian monk seal.
1998     Two adult male monk seals are relocated from French Frigate Shoals to Johnston Atoll because of aggression toward adult female and immature seals.
2001    NOAA Fisheries re-establishes the Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Team due to new information on monk seal biology, an outdated recovery plan, and new management issues to be addressed regarding more seals in the main Hawaiian Islands.
2007    The revised Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Plan describes the threats facing the species and recommended actions needed to address those threats.
2008     Lt. Governor Aiona signs into law legislation that establishes the Hawaiian monk seal as the official state mammal.
2010     Some Hawaiian monk seals in the MHI are fitted with new, high-tech cell phone tags that track their movements and also record dive depths, water temperature and salinity.
2011     Responding to a legal petition, NOAA Fisheries proposes expanding Hawaiian monk seal critical habitat in the NWHI and adding new areas in the MHI.
2012     The Marine Mammal Center breaks ground on the construction of a Hawaiian monk seal rehabilitation facility at Keahole Point in Kailua-Kona on Hawaii Island.
A record year with 21 pups born in the MHI in 2013.

New "CRITTERCAM" research expands to seals in the main Hawaiian Islands.
2014     The opening of The Marine Mammal Center's Ke Kai Ola hospital on the Island of Hawaii represents a major step forward for the recovery of the Hawaiian monk seal population, as it is the first-ever rehabilitation facility devoted to this endangered species.

2016     NOAA Fisheries launches an effort to vaccinate Hawaiian monk seals against morbillivirus, a genus of virus that has killed thousands of marine mammals in other parts of the world and is also behind measles and canine distemper. This initiative is the first to ever try to vaccinate a wild marine mammal species.

Today     About 30% of the Hawaiian monk seal population is alive today thanks to the recovery actions and interventions of NOAA Fisheries, such as disentanglement, rehabilitation, and more.