Historical and Contemporary Significance of the Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal in Native Hawaiian Culture

Prior to the study described in this report, relatively little information had been compiled to indicate Native Hawaiian experiences with and perspectives on the endangered Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi). Human dimensions research was therefore needed to inform then-pending monk seal and monk seal critical habitat assessment processes as required under NEPA and the Endangered Species Act. IAI was contracted to undertaken extensive archival research, oral history interviews, and related analyses to better characterize historic and contemporary human interactions with monk seals in the Hawaiian Archipelago. Project findings suggest that monk seals were rare but not unknown to indigenous Hawaiians during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and that contemporary knowledge and perspectives tend to vary between specific places, place histories, and groups of indigenous residents. Such variability is a particularly important consideration for the administering agencies since formal efforts to conserve the species must by law consider, and where possible address, the needs and interests of adjacent human populations.