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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Update on the Hawaiian Monk Seals

The starvation of young monk seals around Hawaii continues. If the famine grinds on, plus predation, environmental changes and human-induced deaths (such as being caught in fishing nets), there's only a generation or so still left. My feeling is that the monk seals are starving so that we can eat fish take-outs.

The Hawaiian monk seal is having a bad year. In 2006, the seals set a record for the lowest number of pups born since monitoring began in 1983. On French Frigate Shoals, almost 600 miles northwest of Honolulu, where the species' largest subpopulation lives, almost a quarter of the pups died or disappeared, perhaps lost to predation by sharks.

The outlook for juveniles past the pup stage is not any better. Young seals throughout the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands archipelago are starving, and scientists have not been able to figure out why.

...At French Frigate Shoals, that structure is inverted. More adults exist than juveniles. As those adults die off, fewer juveniles grow up to replace them. The major cause of death for the young seals is their unexplained starvation.

Possible explanations include changes in prey distribution and abundance, a depleted lobster population that has not recovered despite being closed since 2000, and competition for food from other top predators like sharks and jacks.




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