1996 32¢ Hawaiian Monk Seal
Issue Date: October 2, 1996
City: San Diego, CA
Printed By: Ashton-Potter (USA) Ltd
Printing Method: Lithographed
The Hawaiian monk seal belongs to an ancient genus that split into three species: the Hawaiian, Caribbean, and Mediterranean monk seals. Today the fate of these tropical seals rests on the survival of the Hawaiian species. Already, the Caribbean species has reached extinction and the Mediterranean is dangerously close, with a population of less than 500.
Found among the islands of northwestern Hawaii, these playful creatures spend much of their time diving for fish, lobster, and octopus. Between dives they can be seen basking on the sunny coral atolls. Once numbering in the thousands, their population has steadily declined since the early 1800s. Like other seals, Hawaiian monk seals have been exploited for their fur and oil, but more recently it is the expansion of commercial fishing that poses a greater threat. Not only do the seals become entangled in fishing nets, but they must also compete for the fish and lobster – their primary food sources.
Additionally, a high ratio of males to females has resulted in fewer pups being born. Sharks further reduce the number that survive until adulthood. To help the pups through this crucial time, a few are flown each year to Sea Life Park in Honolulu where they gain weight and strength, before being returned to the atolls.