About the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program

The overarching goal of the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program (HMSRP) is to achieve an optimal and sustainable Hawaiian monk seal population. The HMSRP is organized into 3 primary teams that collectively work together and with collaborators on 5 Key Research and Conservation Initiatives designed to address the recovery strategies described in the Recovery Plan for the Hawaiian Monk Seal (1.3 MB PDF).

The HMSRP is led by Charles Littnan, PhD.

HMSRP Research Teams

  • Health, Operations, Logistics, and Response (HOLR)
    This team leads monk seal health and disease assessments and research, and leads critical response activities for compromised (hooked, entangled, sick and/or injured) and dead monk seals. Additionally, this team undertakes the crucial role of logistical planning, procurement and maintenance of gear, and support for all HMSRP activities, including the logistically intensive Northwestern Hawaiian Island field effort, and most collaborative projects. The HOLR team is led by Michelle Barbieri, DVM, MS.
  • Population Assessment, Demographics, Data, Legacy, and Enhancement (PADDLE)
    This team provides annual high resolution information from each monk seal subpopulation to assess the species status and examine population trends. This information is used to evaluate natural history traits such as survival, reproduction, growth, behavior and feeding habits. Other data streams are also developed and managed, including legacy data. PADDLE works to identify factors impeding the species recovery and plays a key role in implementing and evaluating the effectiveness of enhancement activities addressing those factors. The PADDLE team is led by Thea Johanos-Kam.
  • Science-based Enhancement and Analytical Support (SEAS)
    This team ensures that the HMSRP engages in science-based conservation. Working with other members of the HMSRP, external scientists and partners, the SEAS team focuses on research to understand sources of monk seal mortality and factors underlying population trends. Based on such analyses, SEAS and others design actions to improve the monk seal population status, which are then implemented by PADDLE or HOLR teams in a rigorous experimental fashion. Next, the SEAS team evaluates the efficacy of such actions and recommends any needed changes to achieve the highest benefit for the monk seal population. For example, the SEAS team employs statistical analysis and mathematical models to identify survival trends from PADDLE's field observation data and to predict potential impacts of HOLR's health interventions. The SEAS team is led by Jason Baker, PhD.

Research and Conservation Initiatives

There are 5 key Research and Conservation Initiatives, listed below, that are undertaken by integrated teams of HMSRP personnel and collaborators to further identify impediments to survival and to respond with appropriate science-based conservation measures.

  • Population Assessment and Enhancement Research Initiative provides annual high resolution information from each monk seal subpopulation required to assess the species status, population trends and current threats. Survival enhancement activities are implemented and tracked to evaluate their effectiveness.
  • Foraging and Fisheries Interactions Research Initiative characterizes the foraging ecology of monk seals by evaluating monk seal diet, foraging behavior and habitat use, and via examination of ecological links affecting monk seal foraging. Additional studies include quantifying the level and types of direct and indirect interactions with fisheries and determining ways to mitigate them to the benefit of both seals and fishermen.
  • Survival Enhancement Research and Activities Initiative focuses on developing effective tools and activities to mitigate threats and thus enhance monk seal survival throughout its range.
  • Health and Disease Research and Emergency Response Initiative investigates the role infectious diseases, parasites, and toxins play in the recovery of the monk seal population. Other activities include critical response for compromised (hooked, entangled, sick, and/or injured) seals.
  • Genetics Research Initiative uses molecular techniques to advance knowledge of Hawaiian monk seal health, population dynamics and diet.

Further Reading:

Lowry LF, Laist DW, Gilmartin WG, Antonelis GA
2011. Recovery of the Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi): A review of conservation efforts, 1972 to 2010, and thoughts for the future. Aquatic Mammals 37(3): 397-419. DOI: 10.1578/AM.37.3.2011.397

External Links to More Hawaiian Monk Seal Information