One of the world’s most endangered seal species has some good news.
The population of Hawaiian monk seals, an animal found in the wild only in Hawaii, has exceeded 1,500 seals, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced this week.
This is more than their number for over 20 years, which is good news not only for them, but for the environment as a whole.
“If we have healthy monk seals, we know the ecosystem that supports these animals is healthy and thriving,” Michelle Barbieri, senior scientist with NOAA’s Monk Seal Research Program, told The Associated. Press.
The expressive-faced creatures face a multitude of threats. One of the biggest is habitat loss caused by climate change, as rising sea levels engulf the lowlands where seals live.
Other dangers include entanglement in fishing nets and other marine debris, consumption of harmful litter like fish hooks, disease, disturbance from human activity on beaches, and even some people intentionally killing them.
“We are there ourselves and working with partners to carry out life-saving interventions for seals, prioritizing females, who will continue to create the future generation of seals,” Barbieri told the AP. “We’re starting to really see this continued gain in intervening to save animal lives.”
In the Hawaiian language, monk seals are called ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua, which translates to “dog running through choppy water.” Marine mammals can be between 6 and 7 feet long and weigh 400 to 600 pounds, feeding on a wide range of fish, octopus, squid, crustaceans, and eels. On occasion, these eels cause their own kind of trouble, sometimes getting stuck in seals’ noses. Fortunately, all of the seals that NOAA encountered with this very specific issue were ultimately correct.