HONOLULU (KHON2) — The population of Hawaiian monk seals has reached a milestone. More than 1,500 were counted in 2021 for the first time in over two decades.

NOAA Fisheries has carefully monitored and took action to save the Hawaiian monk seal species for almost 40 years.

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Lead scientist of the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program said, “We’ve been seeing an increase in the population since 2013, an average that’s been the population growing at about 2% per year, so that growth we’ve been seeing over that period of time is the result of a lot of really direct, hands-on interventions that are conducted for Hawaiian monk seals to improve their survival.”

Experts look more specifically at female reproduction and lifespan of baby seal pups to determine what they can do to help increase their survival rate.

“There’s not any one particular threat that is a problem for the species, there’s a multitude of them. many of them are threats that affect juveniles in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands and so that’s been an area where over the decades we’ve really focused on the work that we do.”

Michelle Barbieri, lead scientist

Monk seal pup season is during the spring and summer, so if you see them on the beach, make sure to keep your distance because this is where they rest and give birth.

Barbieri said, “One of the best things to do is to just use your thumb, and if you can cover that seal with your thumb, you’re a good distance away.”

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Experts say that even though the population is increasing, there is still work to do to keep it above 1,500.