Posted by: Bob Payne | October 7, 2011

Culture, Conservation and Conflict: Assessing the Human Dimensions of Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery

The Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi) is highly endangered, but relatively little is known about how human societies interacted with the species in the past. We reviewed historical documents to reconstruct past human–monk seal relationships in the Hawaiian archipelago and describe ongoing efforts to understand the significance of the species in Native Hawaiian culture. Though the prehistoric period remains poorly understood, our findings suggest that monk seals were likely rare but not unknown to Hawaiian communities in the 19th and 20th centuries. References are made to monk seals in Hawaiian-language newspapers, and oral history research with Native Hawaiian practitioners and community elders reveals new words for the species that were previously unknown. This information may prove useful in crafting culturally appropriate management plans for the species and for developing more effective outreach activities to engage with coastal communities and ocean users. Our research may also aid in establishing long-term ecological baselines that can inform modern efforts to recover the species.

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