‘Crittercam’ video sheds light on the secret lives of Hawaiian monk seals

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Video courtesy: National Geographic


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For years, scientists have tried to understand the secret lives of Hawaiian monk seals. A new video may answer some questions and help in the ongoing efforts to recover and protect them.

The Hawaiian monk seal has been spotted basking in the sun on beaches across the state. But what happens when these endangered species — believed to be less than 1,100 in Hawaiian waters — return to the ocean?

“There are maybe 150 to 200 down the main Hawaiian Islands and that population is pretty new, and it’s probably the best hope for the species as it’s the only part of the population that’s growing right now,” said Charles Littnan, lead scientist for NOAA’s Hawaiian monk seal research program.

For the past year, scientists and researchers have been working to understand the mysterious creatures.

“There are a lot of myths and misconceptions. We’re all learning how to live with them and understand their role in the environment,” Littnan said.

To do this, they glued video cameras on several seals and recorded what they do when they leave Hawaii’s shores as part of the Hoike a Maka project.

“Use it to let the seal tell their own story, so get the scientists out of the way and let the seals be the messenger,” Littnan said.

KHON2 got a sneak peek of the footage from National Geographic “Crittercams.”

“The camera will record up to eight hours of video and we have it cycling through, so usually the camera will take about four days to record and then we go back an recover the camera,” Littnan said.

The Hawaiian monk seal was hunted to the edge of extinction in the late 1800s, but the seal population in the main Hawaiian islands is growing, and that growth has created conflict.

“There’s a lot of people who think monk seals are destroying the environment eating all the fish and causing all sorts of havoc underwater,” Littnan said.

Some fishermen see the seal as competition.

“You saw the seals swimming and it’s not eating everything. In fact, you’ll watch hours of this footage without them eating anything. In fact, you see a lot of sleeping, you see a lot of socializing like that, fighting in the water with other seals, but only a small part of what they’re doing underwater is actual feeding,” Littnan said.

The video will premiere on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at the Doris Duke Theater. Tickets are $15, which includes food, drinks, and a question and answer session with researchers.

For more information, visit this website.

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