HONOLULU (KHON2) — Hawaiian monk seals are among the world’s most endangered seal species. But after decades of a declining population in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the last few years have shown a sign of hope thanks to diligent conservation work.

Estimates show that this endangered species’ numbers have continued to rise at an average rate of 2% per year between 2013 and 2021, according to NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.

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When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, NOAA canceled monk seal research surveys, marking a break in long-term monitoring in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands where most of them live. NOAA scientists were concerned, despite the encourage trends, because they last visited in 2019.

They returned to the islands in the summer of 2021 to check up on the monk seal population and monitor sea turtles in the area. Last autumn, following the return of field teams, population analysis began.

NOAA says the numbers are in, and the news is good! They estimate that the total number of monk seals surpassed 1,500 last year. It marks the first time since the population exceeded 1,500 in more than two decades.

Even though it’s encouraging news, the level required for the Hawaiian monk seal species to be down-listed from endangered to threatened is more than double the current population. Scientists are also monitoring a concerning trend in some Northwestern Hawaiian Islands subpopulations involving low pup survival.

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For more on NOAA’s monk seal research, click here.